Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Review for The Edge of the World: A Visual Adventure to the Most Extraordinary Places on Earth

The Edge of the World: A Visual Adventure to the Most Extraordinary Places on EarthThe Edge of the World: A Visual Adventure to the Most Extraordinary Places on Earth by The Editors of Outside Magazine
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I've enjoyed the fantastic photography of Outside for decades, back from when I first got involved with fitness, and these photos, along with the accompanying vignettes, are some of the most awe-inspiring shots you will ever see. More than the acrobats, and I am certainly not one of them, the sheer immensity and subtlety of nature brought tears to my eyes, many times. Just wow!

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Saturday, December 09, 2017

What Makes for Ideal Managers?


Anyone that knows me that I read a great deal, and one of the topics I focus on is management and leadership. It has meant attending B-school, reading books on management, as well as reading numerous articles and studies - I definitely prefer to base my ideas on statistical proof - so I think I have a good sense of what research says excellent management and leadership means. After reading a blog post that resonated with me, but I thought overly-specific, I decided to abstract that article's rules into something generic, add some needed items, then convert those items into practice.
  • Making sure one's team has adequate tools, resources, contacts, and training
  • Being a leader, and in that providing vision, expectations, goals, and standards, as well communicating that clearly
  • In one's self, exemplifying excellence, being a role model, maintaining a positive image, having personality and charm, while earning respect
  • In one's team, having excellence, cohesion, friendship, and camaraderie
  • Developing one's people, having a concern for their welfare, providing praise and encouragement, and listening
  • For the business, service, strategic goal-setting, clear communication, protecting the team, improving efficiency, managing requirements and resources

The only issue is that this list is a bit of a 'kitchen-sink-laundry-list' including everything without concern for the appropriateness. When I look through my history, very few managers have been what I saw as truly excellent. For other items, they were not specifically a manager's duty but were provided by the organization, such as with providing training.

The Source

How to Tell If You're a Great Manager:
  • Do I know what is expected of me at work? 
  • Do I have the materials and equipment I need to do my work right?
  • At work, do I have the opportunity to do what I do best every day?
  • In the last seven days, have I received recognition or praise for doing good work?
  • Does my supervisor, or someone at work, seem to care about me as a person?
  • Is there someone at work who encourages my development?
  • At work, do my opinions seem to count?
  • Does the mission/purpose of my company make me feel my job is important?
  • Are my co-workers committed to doing high-quality work?
  • Do I have a best friend at work?
  • In the last six months, has someone at work talked to me about my progress?
  • This last year, have I had opportunities at work to learn and grow?

Sunday, October 01, 2017

NY Times Opinion by Devorah Baum: Jewishness

In response to a NY Times piece in the Opinion section We Are All Jew-ish Now, with the synopsis "Jewishness” can be the sensibility of whoever feels unsure of who they are — a bit peculiar, a bit funny", I wrote the following:

Comment #1

The more basic one, that most Jews would agree about, is Jewish means being of Jewish ancestry. Beyond that, Jews themselves think that being Jewish means remembering the Holocaust, being ethical, working for justice and equality, and for being intellectually curious.

Personally, as someone who is married to someone of Jewish ancestry, and whose friends over the past four decades have been almost exclusively Jewish, I've sometimes wondered why. My own musings, based on certain facts of behavior, is that Jews, especially the ones that I know, are highly intelligent, highly verbal, and interactive communicators. Conversation is rarely about taking turns and has always been a bit more intense and intellectual, but then again, that's me too.

Comment #2

In a previous comment, I wrote about the more salient aspects of Jewishness, but one that I have mused about was triggered by an article on The Matrix movie. I don't remember the actual reference, but it had to do with perception. I don't have the original article, but I imagined it had something to do with the multiplicity of perception.

My own personal take has more to do with wondering why all of my major personal attachments have been with Jews. The most obvious reason is that we share high intelligence, along with a strong verbal ability and an interactive style, but I have a few more personal ones. Maybe it is because we have a feeling of being successful outsiders. Maybe it is the strong concern with ethics, justice, and equality. Maybe it's my mitochondrial DNA line, of the same branch as 30% of Jews, although, in fact, I know that my spouse is not from that branch. Who knows?

Comment #3

I can see the point of being the successful outsider, even though one is an insider by intellect or ability, and one's outsider perception can lead to great insight, comedy being one venue. It is certainly possible for many of us to experience this sense of not quite fitting in, but the internet has had the opposite effect, making insiders of the fringe. Although our connectivity can bring together diverse and positive elements, allow us to find people, ideas and materials that were not available locally, it is also how misogynists, racists, and antisemites find their brethren.

Friday, September 08, 2017

What the Rich Won’t Tell You - The New York Times

Responding to What the Rich Won’t Tell You - The New York Times
First, I can see the resentment in the comments, and certainly, some of it is justified, but it is often overgeneralized so that the affluent are presented or assumed to be all one way of another. It is always more nuanced.

Second, empathy matters, although not for everyone. If one has friends of different economic classes, older people on fixed incomes, women who've gone through divorces - women suffer more than men when couples divorce -, or those who've become victim to the changing job landscape, those still thriving feel some pain when realizing the tough times others might be going through. One avoids [mentioning] those things that are likely out of the reach of others.

Third, for those that are aware of their [fortune] - the 'luck' of having smarts, a good family, social supports, and who lived in a period of government munificence - doing good is another choice, as is charity, not necessarily to offset guilt, but wanting to change the unequal and harmful structures we live in.

Monday, August 28, 2017

More Responses to an Open Letter to James Damore

As part of the Damore-related article I responded and posted about , I later wrote responses to other posters in response to a NY Times article An Open Letter to James Damore by Debra Sterling. Additional responses are below:

To someone criticizing, rightly, Damore's gender views...
In Hofstede's cultural dimension models, the drive for status is part of the masculinity dimension, and it varies a great deal, with the Scandinavian societies on the low end, having equivalent gender expectations, as opposed to the more traditional societies like the US. Although one might find that such traits are heritable, it is obvious that culture has a large influence on social norms.

Equally important, Damore does not realize that the men entering the profession have turned the industry toxic, e.g., high pressure, not that the industry was toxic and therefore drove women away, or that what he assumes is the profession is simply emblematic of life in corporate America. Several years ago tech was touted as an industry with high compensation and low stress. Along these lines, I have seen studies that showed causality in compensation, that when men enter the field pay rises. it was not that the profession paid well and then men entered it.
To someone that described programming as only requiring technical abilities...
Have you ever developed software? I do and have and my sense is that developing solutions requires technical creativity, insights into human behavior, understandings of the problem domain and innovation. Only yesterday, when I responded to one of our quant interns about work she obviously found exciting, saying that it seemed mentally engaging, she responded, that it was more like creative than intellectual.

Like almost any endeavor, the task is what you bring to it, and if you bring genius, your work is genius. If you are intellectually lackluster just following orders, then not much ability is required.
I was offended by your statement for two reasons, and have already responded to your perception that programming was only technical. I'm also offended by your idea that there is no science to programming, although when I say programming, I am writing about the larger field of software architecture and development.

Since when did "expert knowledge of one or more of the natural or physical sciences" become synonymous with genius? When one thinks of the real genius of thought today - granted this is my biased opinion - most innovations seem to be coming from the computer science world, revolutionizing analysis in the humanities, economics and social sciences, and if not now, the hard sciences.
To someone assuming that irritating product, in particular, Apple's, were the result of
Actually, it is not tech-nerdism that is driving those decisions, it is Apple driving users toward a revenue stream, storing information and then music on the cloud. It is a form of lock-in, making sure you make future purchases from them.
To someone disagreeing with a poster that assumed the driver for a computer science career was about money...
Although I disagree with many of your posts in this forum, I really have to agree with you on this one. Although I often work as a project manager, and when I code use modern languages and paradigms, I could easily tell stories about my first time working with BASIC (1982), the sheer joy of getting good results out of COBOL (1984), literally spending entire days over a week to put together a new website (2000). Afterward, although I was being hired as a PM and lead, I decided to focus on software development, where I could be paid to do what I loved. Even then, there is the intellectual engagement I have in designing solutions and solving problems. As an example, I have blog setup to explore data analytics using F#, R, and Python. It's a pleasure, although my initial driver was to share the work with others, it now includes a certain amount of self-promotion for the next phase of my career.

Friday, August 11, 2017

A Response to an Open Letter to James Damore

I posted a comment in response to An Open Letter to James Damore by Debra Sterling, below:
It doesn't get mentioned, but some of the same stereotypes that Damore claims make women ill-suited for technology, e.g., extroversion and emotional management, are the same traits that in some studies have been shown to make teams more productive. The concern about managing relationships, regardless of gender, has been shown to correlate with more effective team leaders. Extroversion in programmers has also been shown to correlate with team productivity.

I'm sure there are findings that might contradict the above, but Damore seems to have a very narrow view of what makes one effective. Leadership, or at least getting to the top, in Damore's view, and in traditional masculine societies, might require a desire for dominance and a penchant for combativeness, but ideal styles of leadership typically require driving consensus, presenting a vision, social cohesion and charisma, obviously absent from Damore's understanding of leadership.

Damore's ideas are cherry-picked to support his flawed world view.

Wednesday, July 05, 2017

Review: The Systems View of Life: A Unifying Vision

An excellent, incredibly insightful and informative book, somewhat marred by the tedium experienced in the authors' rehashing the ideas of organizations working for change. For most of this book, the writers masterfully tie together concepts in systems, mathematics, consciousness, the environment, society and biology, and for that, it is a brilliant read.

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The Systems View of Life: A Unifying Vision The Systems View of Life: A Unifying Vision by Fritjof Capra

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Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Who Pays on the First Date? No One Knows Anymore, and It’s Really Awkward - WSJ

In response to Who Pays on the First Date? No One Knows Anymore, and It’s Really Awkward in the Wall Street Journal I wrote the following:
I am by no means a traditional man, but when I was dating via the personals, I paid. I make more than women, by virtue of my gender. I am smart, but only as smart as my now wife, and I am in a well-paying profession in a well-paying industry, but some of that is becuase of the sexsim of our culture. My wife has more education than I have, but works for a non-profit. I am sure, without the limitations placed on our respective genders, she could excel in my field, if allowed.

Although I have always paid in the beginning of a relationship, I knew that, if it lasted, the relationship would become a partnership, with each contributing as much as we could. Maybe not always the same amount, but fully.

Sunday, June 25, 2017

Men Don’t Want to Be Nurses. Their Wives Agree. - The New York Times

Responding to Men Don’t Want to Be Nurses. Their Wives Agree. in the NY Times:
The US has some deeply ingrained aspects that make this situation intractable, a traditional culture that appreciates work in which men are supposed to succeed, along with a social system that denigrates women's work, and a socioeconomic system that provides no protection for labor, particularly service work, the kind of work traditionally done by women.

Where can it be improved?

Ideally, at least for someone like me, we would move towards an egalitarian society where quality of life matters more than work, that provides some degree of social welfare to buffet against the harms the economy can bring, and that protects labor, particularly service work. Seriously, I doubt that the US will become a culture that focuses on quality of life over work. I would also doubt that the sociopolitical world would change to protect service work. The only bright spot for male-type labor would be in the growing green energy sector, but the right-wing, those currently in power, are focusing on the old industries, which are looking to be in their death throes. Our traditional, unequal, inegalitarian culture makes all of that an uphill climb.

The US likely cannot solve this problem adequately, or at least will not, since it is the result of its dysfunctional culture. Yes, some solution would result, but likely an ugly patchwork that satisfies no one.

We would rather emigrate...

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Where Anti-Tax Fervor Means ‘All Services Will Cease' - The NY Times

A minor article, Where Anti-Tax Fervor Means ‘All Services Will Cease’, highlighting a small town's cutting of it's nose to spite its face, ala a No Taxes credo.
Although much of the effective drive against taxes can be traced to 'astroturf' political organizations, American short-sightedness paired with its individualism, has helped create high inequality and low taxes, resulting in little money in people's pockets and in government coffers, required to sustain decent lives.

Saturday, April 29, 2017

A Response to Therapists Offer Strategies for Postelection Stress

My response to the NYT article Therapists Offer Strategies for Postelection Stress garnered many likes, so I thought I'd repost it here:
Reduce the crap, avoid the hype, read the best sources. Get a life. Regardless of how miserable the idiot-in-chief and his cronies, the quality of your life matters, and don't let them ruin it. Get involved. Instead of worrying about the harm of the Republicans, get busy, not from home, but get out and help to bring about change.

Wednesday, March 01, 2017

Radical Enlightenment: Philosophy and the Making of Modernity 1650-1750

Radical Enlightenment: Philosophy and the Making of Modernity 1650-1750Radical Enlightenment: Philosophy and the Making of Modernity 1650-1750 by Jonathan I. Israel
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Excellent book and ideas, with some flaws I found irritating. First, some quotes are provided without translations - I wish my French was better, and I have no real understanding of Dutch - and it would have been nice to link to the translation, if not had it displayed in the text. Second, the history is very detailed, a bit too much for my taste, and I would have preferred a somewhat higher-level view of the actions of the various actors in the enlightenment drama, although as I pored on, the complexity of the story was very engaging.

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Ordering Vindaloo or Hunting for Venison? How You Vote - The New York Times

I was active in a thread on the NY Times site, discussing how lifestyle choices correlate with lifestyle choice.

First Post:
This is nothing new. Diversity, is both cause and effect of openness to experience. Open-minded people, as per the Big Five and/or OCEAN personality inventories, tend to be liberal, and their lifestyle choices reflect that. They tend to get educated, move to cities, and enjoy a greater variation in travel, reading, and music. They enjoy urban, dense environments with a range of identities. People with low openness, or for the sake of simplicity, the close-minded, tend to stick close to home, favor family and church, and tend to distrust urban, diverse environments. This dimension seems to also informally correlate with disgust and fear of the unknown, something seemingly related to a fear of the foreign. 
You likely have guessed, or assume, that I am very liberal, and I am an fairly empathetic person, but I would not find engaging with such people enjoyable, or at least not for long. The ones I do have in my environment, the obvious ones, are the most belligerent, hateful people, and the more subdued ones are nice, but not people I personally engage with, although I can certainly enjoy conversations about personal topics with them.

In truth, the more my spouse and I understand how we do not fit in the United States, and that humanitarian and welfare concerns will likely be treated as less important than work, the more we consider emigrating. As individuals, we would better fit in Sweden or the Netherlands, while as a couple we might enjoy Canada or New Zealand.
An additional comment, in the same thread:
Manhattan is just fine for us, we are successful and we are surrounded by people that we like. Manhattan is a diverse place, with a wealth of culture. It is not that we can't find places we love, and might love us, like NYC, LA, SF, Seattle, etc., it is the national character that disagree with us so much, i.e., work over quality of life and short term over long term solutions. No matter, unless Democrats capture the government for the next few decades, human welfare, rights and the environment - too many concerns to mention - will take a back seat to work, the military, and religion. It is not worth the grief and upset to stick around.
Responding to an anti-Muslim post:
For some of us, it is just the opposite. I live in Manhattan, and although I do not like the stratification of ethnicity and class, I have few issues with diversity.
  • We own an NYC condo in a full-service doorman building, and our floor of 10 apartment is home to a diverse range of people, Canadian (female, working at the UN), a middle eastern couple, East Asians (immigrant and domestic, young and senior), Jews (NYC is home to the largest number), Indian (doctor at NYU), as well as some White people, like me. Our building staff is largely Hispanic and African-American, but also Asian. The super originated from the Caribbean, and the managers have been Hispanic.
  • I work in financial technology, and my coworkers are often from India, Russia and/or Eastern European states (Romaine, Ukraine), Ireland, Japan, Ecuador, China, and the US, with some of the latter working remotely from South Dakota and North Carolina, and the our team includes African-Americans as well. Sadly, it is disproportionately male.
  • The businesses we enlist locally are often run by ethnic groups, however stereotypical, with Asian dry cleaners, household cleaners that are Eastern European and/or Caribbean, with ethnic food prepared by people from many countries, wait staff from around the world, and from many parts of the US.
Although I dislike the stratification of class and race, diversity works for us.
Responding to an anti-liberal post:
That's nonsense. I see many conservatives in this forum, while claiming that liberals think of them as bigots and reprobates, essentially assume liberals are similarly disposed, but of course in another direction...
Responding to a post about IQ and the recent election:
It was not much different than usual, except maybe that conservative party voters were even less educated than usual. Those within the highest education groups tend to vote liberally, as do, sometimes the lowest, although this is mediated by ethnicity. The middle tends to be conservative. With this last election, it was not different, and as usual, increasing education tended to indicate voting liberally.

As per FiveThirtyEight:

Responding to a conservative post about high school graduation rates:
You might do better to compare similar demographic groups along levels of education and how that relates to voting, to avoid the confounds created by race, ethnicity, gender and religion. When comparing like to like, education is a great divider between Democrats and Conservatives.

Then consider Asians at 50.5% with Baccalaureates, with 21.2% having graduate degrees. Asians vote democratic too, at 79%. In truth, the prototypical Republican is White, Christian, exurban, male and less educated, while Democrats are typically Non-White, Non-Christian, urban, female and more educated. Obviously a broad stroke generalization, but these demographic splits predict a lot of variation.
Responding to a poster who thought the relationships were invalid, and simply about money and geography:
Maybe you didn't notice, but your criticism was mentioned and negated:

"These relationships persist after accounting for things like partisanship, income, education and geography."
Responding to a poster decrying the cost of education, and how that is impacting diversity:
It is not just the unaffordability of education, although it is an outcome, but the inequality, the lower quality of life that it engenders, and the maltreatment coming out of our government, and the short-sightedness of our culture, that is ruining American lives.

Monday, February 20, 2017

Cultures and Organizations: Software of the Mind, Third Edition

Cultures and Organizations: Software of the Mind, Third EditionCultures and Organizations: Software of the Mind, Third Edition by Geert Hofstede
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A detailed and fascinating review of Hofstede's dimensions, by the researcher himself, showing broad high-level insights into history and culture, although a bit tedious, as it often describes in detail relationships many of us implicitly understand.

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Saturday, February 18, 2017

Who Will Watch the Agents Watching Our Borders? - The New York Times

My response to the NYT article Who Will Watch the Agents Watching Our Borders?:
The attack dogs are quite happy to have unfettered access to fresh meat. Restraining them, so that they would be fair and humane, and maybe even useful, runs counter to the savage mentality they embody. We have all read how immigration is actually a benefit, reducing crime, increasing salaries, improving the lives of immigrants as well as their surroundings. What would an animal like that attack dog about value or humanity, since it only wants more fresh meat, with comfort in knowing that they won't be restrained in the future...

A Response to Why More Democrats Are Now Embracing Conspiracy Theories

I wrote a few responses to an article, Why More Democrats Are Now Embracing Conspiracy Theories in the The New York Times, first here and then here.

The text of the first:
If nothing else, conspiracy theories allude to things, while not absolutely true, are certainly possible, or hint at things that, while not an outright takeover, are concerns.
  • Trump only needs an excuse, a terrorist incident, a violent leftist response, to initiate quasi-fascist control, a reduction in rights, harsh military responses to protests, increased surveillance, etc.
  • His coziness with Russia, if not quite indicating a puppet-in-chief, indicates a lack of wariness that might be necessary when Russia does decide to invade another Eastern European country, or say, deploy military that threatens Europe.
  • The fact that his advisors are all financial people, military hawks, with a [secretary] of state from Exxon, point to a possible war. A conspiracy theory would be that they are there to create a war, affecting the price of oil, forcing defense expenditure increases, with profiteers at the ready to make money. In truth, I can still see how the tendencies of those in power could lead to war, and while not quite intentional, could occur regardless.
  • Considering Trump's dark triad (narcissism, psychopathy, machiavellian) tendencies, and the what history has taught us about prior demigogs, we need to be wary.
The text of the second:
Although I am certainly aware of the concerns, of individuals seeing controlled plans where a more subtle analysis is required, of unconnected actors and actions are at play, I do believe you are engaging in a false equivalence.

Obama was a not secret Muslim Nazi about to take away Republicans' guns, and was, in fact, quite the opposite. Obama could not reasonably be likened to a Hitler or a Pinochet. On the other hand, Trump does seem like the kind of individual prone to authoritarianism and is compromised, with his obvious allusions and connections to Russia.
  • Is he Putin's puppet. Likely no, but is he someone that might be prepared to respond well to Russian aggression?
  • Will in implement martial law? No, he will slowly destroy as many protections against state overreach as he, and the Republicans can.
  • Will he force women to conform to an outdated role, e.g., wear burkas, or the modern equivalent, lipstick and dresses? No, but will women's rights and freedoms be eroded, will their quality life be diminished. I'd bet yes.
  • The Koch brothers and ALEC are perfect examples of a nefarious groups manipulating our lives and our legislature.

Disabled, Shunned and Silenced in Trump’s America - The New York Times

My response to Disabled, Shunned and Silenced in Trump’s America in the The New York Times:
Thank you for this article. I had not read that the buffoon had removed the Disabilities section. It foreshadows what we know to come, hatred, ignorance, and abuse of the idiot in chief...

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Emigration's Effects on Sending Countries

As part of an online back in forth on Google+, after a person claimed that US immigration ruined developing economies, I collected bits of useful information regarding the effect of emigration on the sending country. I used fairly open search terms, emigration effects, and although there were studies that were mixed about emigration, they were few, and one of those is not a study.

One idea I've read, although did not find corroborating evidence of, stated that the drive to emigrate drove up the capabilities of the people left behind. Yes, developed countries often take the best of the developing world, but the drive to emigrate focuses many on education, so the ones left behind, and the country they inhabit, are better off. As an example, if you have 100 people in a country, and you have a system that says 10 can leave that score highest on an exam. Sixty (60) try to raise themselves by studying. At the end, 10 leave, leaving 50 more educated than when they started. So yes, the 10 best were taken, but 50 raised themselves’ up, benefiting not only themselves but also their community.

A synopsis of a study by the Rand Corporation:

While the effects of immigration on the receiving country have received a great deal of attention, less has been paid to its effects on the sending country. The available data suggest that, on net, emigration has a positive effect on the sending country. For example, by decreasing the labor pool in the sending country, emigration helps to alleviate unemployment and increase the incomes of the remaining workers. Also, emigres often send money home, enhancing their families' standards of living and thereby contributing both to the home economy and the nation's trade balance. Most emigres are young, male, and married, however, so there can be a destabilizing effect on the family. Some countries have attempted to restrict immigration, in the belief that it does not enhance economic development. However, the evidence suggests that, because of the benefits noted above, this might result in an even greater economic decline than such countries fear.


Another positive study:

The two most salient ways migration influences development within Mexico is through remittances and labor markets, according to this report from MPI's Regional Migration Study Group.

When looking at Mexico, this analysis finds that when the labor market effects and household income benefits of remittances are compiled into a model of the Mexican economy, Mexico’s fiscal balance appears to benefit from emigration — its economic output rising by 8.8 percent and tax collection by 7.4 percent over the last decade.


And even more positive effects:

Research has shown that workers migrate, find employment, and then move on or return home which discredits the myth that immigrants are flooding into western nations to settle permanently. This temporary migration has a positive effect on the sending nations as the returning workers are more highly-skilled and experienced, able to boost their home economy due to the skills learned abroad.

Further evidence has proven that migrants rarely take native workers’ jobs, and they boost employment effects in the long term. In her paper on the impact of immigrant labor on native workers, Amelie F. Constant says that migrants often “accept jobs that natives don’t want or can’t do [and] they create new jobs by increasing production, engaging in self-employment, and easing upward job mobility for native workers.

Citizen: An American LyricCitizen: An American Lyric by Claudia Rankine
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Not quite poetry in the traditional sense, thoughtful and powerful writing.

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James Igoe's Reviews > Notes from the Underground

Notes from the Underground by Fyodor Dostoyevsky My rating: 5 of 5 stars Disgusting Journey I emphathized with the character, but at some...