Category Archives: linkery

More comments on management

A colleague who is also a Facebook friend posted something about The Management Myth recently. My comment I think sums up my opinion of management books and management in general as concisely as I’ve done to date.

Comment #1: I had an epiphany as a young programmer that the best programmers were people who had liberal arts degrees rather than computer science or software engineering degrees. Programmers are supposed to make useful models of the world, and the hardest part turns out not to be the modeling part, but the understanding the world part. When I transitioned into management, I learned the same was true of MBAs.

That said, just like you can get in way over your head in software development if you don’t get some pure engineering training, there really is something to be said for management as an abstract discipline. My gripe with the literature is not so much that it’s all complete hooey, but the books have a very low ratio of valuable insights to hooey, and are very repetitive and information-sparse.

Comment #2: (when I said “the hard part turns out not to be the modeling part” what I mean is that the tools of modeling, the computer languages, the hardware, the infrastructure– those things have reached a state of maturity such that you really don’t have to spend years studying computer science to be able to use them properly).

There’s also one of those great New Yorker reviews-that-is-almost-as-meaty-as-the-book-reviewed here. Which is a pretty interesting history of management consulting going wayyy back to the 19th century.

Nerd Boyfriend

I find Nerd Boyfriend endless fun. Each post is a picture of a guy fitting the Warholian definition of a good picture (“My idea of a good picture is one that’s in focus and of a famous person doing something unfamous.”). But there’s always the added twist that the pictures make the subjects look nerdy in addition to merely un-famous. And then there are links to shop for one or more items of the apparel pictured. Genius.

I love it when a plan comes together

I love it when a plan comes together

“people who don’t work with their hands are parasites”

This “Shop Class as Soulcraft” book that has been getting a lot of attention lately bugs me for a lot of reasons. So it’s nice to see that someone has written a far more lucid essay than I could have, hitting all of my main gripes.

I mean, I get where the motorcycle repair guy is coming from. For the last 10 years I’ve either been a software developer or, abstracted one more level, a manager of software developers, or, abstracted one more level, a director of software development— the latter being so abstracted even I’m not really sure what it means most of the time. I spend most of the day communicating mostly electronically with often remote colleagues to build symbolic representations of things which are themselves symbolic representations of other things. So sometimes it all gets a little hairy, and when it does, I come home from the office, turn off the computer and do some gardening: I touch dirt, and cultivate living things that enjoy the sun. Or I mess around with my 3/4 ton cast iron letterpress built in 1925,  making physical things on actual paper using real ink that stains my hands, setting the type by hand, metal letter by metal letter. There is a definite satisfaction to manipulating things in the physical world for a change.

And when I talk about these things with people who don’t know me well, they often assume these are my true passions, what I’d spend 100% of my time doing if only I could throw off the golden handcuffs of my day job. They seem a little surprised when I tell them that I’d go totally crazy if I had to do either of those things full time, and that I find my real job far more stimulating. But it’s true. If I really wanted to grow things for a living, I’d have stayed on my parents’ farm, and if I wanted to do letterpress full-time I’d do it— I know many people who have thriving letterpress businesses.

But my job is sort of endlessly interesting: it’s basically to learn how a part of the world works and then to model it as software. When something becomes rote, you just write a program to do it for you. Or, as Alan Turing said:

Instruction tables will have to be made up by mathematicians with computing experiences and perhaps a certain puzzle-solving ability. There will probably be a great deal of work to be done, for every known process has got to be translated into instruction table form at some stage.

The process of constructing instruction tables should be very fascinating. There need be no real danger of it ever becoming a drudge, for any processes that are quite mechanical may be turned over to the machine itself.

In the process, I have gotten to work closely with people from China, all parts of India, Ireland, Korea, France, Bangladesh via Saudi Arabia, England, Russia, and every conceiveable part of the US. While I do sympathize with the movement toward more local economies like the movement toward eating fresh locally grown food, and while I do get concerned at times at the really dramatic extent to which US manufacturing has moved overseas, I do know that my life has been enriched by developing personal relationships with people from all over the world. I have a hard time believing that this kind of international exchange of labor is a bad thing.

Back to the New Yorker piece: one of the things that irks me to no end about the “Shop Class” guy (whose book I have not read, but whose NYT Magazine article I did read) is his kind of shocking lack of historical perspective. The insight that mechanized or abstract work can be kind of alienating is not exactly new. While he does cite some influences (like Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance), he writes as if he never heard of, oh, the arts and crafts movement. The New Yorker piece does a decent survey of a history of this idea, all the way back to Adam Smith himself.

I guess, finally, what also bugs me is that I do agree with his basic premise: that “manual” labor actually requires creativity and can be a satisfying, valuable, and worthwhile way to spend your life. I just dislike that he seems to rule out the possibility that others mileage may vary, and would not find it so. But it seems like bashing white collar work seems to have struck a nerve with enough white collar workers to sell quite a few books.

[PS: To save you the trouble of looking it up, the title of this post is a Jenny Holzer Truism]

While I was away…

Dervala suddenly returned to her blog. I really enjoyed this post.

Also.

Lissa Harris, one of my favorite writers from the heyday of the Weekly Dig, started a blog called Women Do! which is just scathing and wonderful. It’s dedicated to finding and skewering examples of the “Women Do!” type of newspaper feature story:

Not every story about women–not even every story about women doing things–is a Women Do story….

Every proper Women Do story has three hallmarks, and they are three, and these are them:

1. Irrelevance. The true Women Do story is not about medical issues, or gender discrimination, or anything properly related to women qua women. Oh no. It is about the shocking spectacle of women doing stuff that people generally do. At its heart is typically an earth-shattering revelation that some women, for instance, like to drive motor-cars or eat ice-cream. The reporter sets about tackling this topic with all the barmy innocence of a two-year-old child, a Betelgeusian anthropologist or a time-traveler from 1769.

You should read the other two as well, but to do that I’m going to make you actually go read it yourself.

The sad thing is that when it started, I thought she was going to run short of material immediately. Sadly, this has not been the case. So far, women have become morticians, farmed, robbed banks, and much much more.

Also.

While I wasn’t paying attention my friend Abeer has become quite a writer. You should read her published stuff. And her blog.

Hitchens gets waterboarded

I can’t decide if Christopher Hitchens’ article in Vanity Fair in which he willingly submits to being waterboarded in order to help him decide if it’s torture or not qualifies him to be considered like one of those spunky courageous first-person journalists of yore like Orwell or if it’s just an audition for Jackass: Celebrity Journalist edition. I’m guessing a little of both, leaning toward the latter. Because while it certainly shows a little more guts than many of his milquetoast bretheren, there are actually a lot of fairly courageous journalists actually covering the war at real, great personal danger. And it’s ultimately sort of a pointless stunt: maybe Hitchens personally wasn’t sure waterboarding was torture, but honestly, I don’t even think the Bush administration lawyers really believe deep in their hearts that it isn’t.

Best obituary ever

This is possibly the most fun I’ve ever had reading an obituary. This guy sounds like possibly the most glorious fuckup who ever lived, and the NYT obituarist seems barely able to contain his tone of gleeful derision.

Huntington Hartford, who inherited a fortune from the A. & P. grocery business and lost most of it chasing his dreams as an entrepreneur, arts patron and man of leisure, died Monday at his home in Lyford Cay in the Bahamas. He was 97.

There were some major failures:

…he set about developing a resort with the construction of the Ocean Club and other amenities. Advisers persuaded him to stop short of exotic attractions like chariot races, but, overextended and unable to get a gambling license, he wound up losing an estimated $25 million to $30 million.

There were many lesser ventures that either bombed or fizzled, among them an automated parking garage in Manhattan, a handwriting institute, a modeling agency and his own disastrous stage adaptation of “Jane Eyre.” He inherited an estimated $90 million and lost an estimated $80 million of it.

But no task seems too varied or small for this guy to fail:

In 1940, Mr. Hartford tried being a reporter for the New York newspaper PM, after putting up $100,000 to help get the paper started. If nothing else, the experience produced one of the all-time great excuses for missing deadline: he once sailed his yacht to cover an assignment on Long Island, and upon returning to the city could find no place to tie up and come ashore with the story.

With the start of World War II, he donated the yacht to the Coast Guard. In return he was given the command of a modest supply ship in the Pacific. He ran it aground twice — once, he said later, because his navigational charts were out of date, the other time because “I mistook feet for fathoms.”

And he also did not fare quite so well in love. Here’s how things ended with wife #4:

In 1974 Mr. Hartford married Elaine Kay, a former hairdresser more than 40 years his junior. They, too, were divorced, in 1981, but continued to live together in Mr. Hartford’s 20-room duplex apartment at 1 Beekman Place in Manhattan. In 1984, Ms. Kay and a friend were arrested and charged with tying up a teenage secretary to Mr. Hartford and shaving her head. The directors of the building voted for eviction.