February Reading

I went on vacation in February, so lots of time for reading.  Put another seven books away, which gives me 15 for the year, and puts me on pace for 90 (though March is looking slow).  No fiction this month, sadly.  Need to correct that.

  • The Art of Doing: How Superachievers Do What They Do and How They Do It So Well
    A disappointment.  It was a series of interviews with people who are the best at what they do, but instead of concentrating on the larger principles of success, it instead actually attempted to teach me how to do things like win the Indy 500, hunt big game, act on Broadway, or decorate department store windows.  Somewhat pointless.
  • The Org: The Underlying Logic of the Office
    Very interesting examination of the modern organization and how it functions (or doesn’t).  Everyone complains about bureaucracy, but the fact is that the alternative to the organization only works in very specific circumstances, and above a certain size, you will start turning into the organization you so dread, whether you like it or not.
  • Ship of Gold in the Deep Blue Sea: The History and Discovery of the World’s Richest Shipwreck
    One of my favorite books.  I read it on my honeymoon, and bought it to read again on vacation. An inspiring story of an almost impossible mission to recover one of the greatest shipwrecks in history.  Every time I read this book, I come away thinking I can do anything.
  • Book was There: Reading in Electronic Times
    I really wanted this book to be great, because I’m keenly interested in how reading is changing with the adoption of ebooks.  Sadly, this book was vague and had an arrogance I didn’t like.  It was trying to be so incredibly profound, and failed badly.  I gained some insights, but it didn’t come close to what I hoped.
  • Information: A Very Short Introduction
    A follow-up to a couple of books I read last month about information theory.  A solid book, but no new insights.  I think I’m done with information and communication theory.  I had some interest, but three books have explained the concepts to me and quenched my thirst here.
  • A Concise History of the Caribbean
    I got this after I returned from vacation in Turks and Caicos, wanting to read a nice story about the beautiful islands and happy people.  Sadly, the history of the Caribbean is pretty wretched.  It’s summed up thusly: people were happy, then the Europeans arrived in 1492 and killed lots of them, enslaved the rest, and imported even more slaves to systematically rape the land and trade the islands like playing cards for a couple of hundred years.  A truly depressing read.
  • Liberty and Tyranny: A Conservative Manifesto
    I read this on recommendation of a conservative friend (I’m a Democrat).  I thought it was a good summation of the conservative philosophy.  I didn’t agree with everything the author said, but it was well-written, well-reasoned, and he kept the vitriol to a minimum (well, low…maybe not “minimum”).  I learned a few things, and gained some perspective, which is always good.

Kwame Kilpatrick Revisited

Jury finds Detroit ex-mayor guilty on most charges: Kwame Kilpatrick is guilty as hell, it turns out.  See this post for an entertaining recap of all the stuff he was accused of doing.  This guy was a cliché of the classic corrupt politician.

Kilpatrick was convicted on 24 of 30 counts, including five counts of extortion, racketeering, bribery and several mail, wire and tax fraud charges during a five-month trial in which he was portrayed as an unscrupulous politician who took bribes, rigged contracts and lived far beyond his means while in office.

Saying Goodbye to the News

i’m not kenneth, there is no frequency: My friend Ian is swearing off all news.

But my soul is exhausted by deafening drum circle of broadcast news, and I’m done with it. These days you can stay well-informed just by incidental contact, whether it’s something on Facebook or even just floating in vague ether. There’s also "The Daily Show" to give you a curated meal of the goings-on with a sugar-dose of humor. And for those who think I might suffer from a lack of perspective or that I’m preparing myself for Vacant-Eyed Dumdumville, well, that’s a calculated risk.

Sometimes, I’m tempted to do the same thing, but I’m such a junkie for it.  “Junkie” might be a perfect word, actually.

I wonder how my addiction to politics and current events affects me mentally. I’m constantly consumed by it, which means I have a constant anxiety that I’m not consuming enough, and additional anxiety about the sheer horrible-ness of what I do consume.

You can’t win.

January Reading

Inspired by my friend Matt, I am trying to hit a goal of 75 books read in 2013, with a stretch goal of 100.  I’m keeping notes on all of them, and at the end of every month, I’ll post the books I read for that month.

In January, I got eight books done.  This gives me a projected total of 96 books for the year, and I’m heading into a vacation in February, which will give me lots of time to read.

  • Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire
    I’m trying to get through all of the Potter books.  This is four of seven.  Very long compared to the others, and a bit plodding in places. But the climax is thrilling, and – for what it’s worth – the movie was great.
  • Personal History
    The autobiography of Katherine Graham, who owned the Washington Post through the tumultuous 60s and 70s, including during Watergate. A wonderful book that begins as a portrait of American aristocracy in the early 20th century, and ends as a fascinating study of journalism and the role of women in United States government.
  • Profitable Brilliance
    A friend purchased this for me. It was supposedly about “thought leadership” and how to promote it at your organization. I hated this book. Poorly written and repetitive. I felt like taking a shower after I was done. Yuck.
  • All the President’s Men
    This is the famous book from the early 70s about the research of the Watergate scandal. Written by Woodward and Bernstein themselves, this book is the ultimate evidence of the role of journalism in government and ensuring the public good.
  • Making News: A Straight-Shooting Guide to Media Relations
    A guide about how to manage news and PR for your organizations. It was written by a former network news correspondent.  Not perfectly written, and gets a bit repetitive in places, but full of good advice.
  • The Information: A History, A Theory, A Flood
    The history of information and communication theory, this book is a love letter to Claude Shannon who defined the field of information theory just after the war. It’s fundamentally the story about the history of remote communication, from African drums through the telegraph, radio, television, and the Internet.  I was…okay. I admit to getting a bit lost deep in the heart of it.
  • An Introduction to Information Theory: Symbols, Signals and Noise
    This was an older book, written in 1961 and revised in 1980.  It was essentially a textbook on information theory, full of mathematical proofs and such. Some good information, but its age showed quite a bit when it got all enraptured with the technology of television. Still, quite interesting.
  • Practice Perfect: 42 Rules for Getting Better at Getting Better
    A book about how to practice anything better. This was written by a group of teaching consultants who work with teachers to help them practice classroom skills.  It’s a practical book and kills more than a few sacred cows. Lots of great information and ideas and I’m quite in interested in putting into practice.

I also did some other long-form reading. Not books, but longer than your average web article.

  • The Role of Deliberate Practice in the Acquisition of Expert Performance
    This is the famous study that purported to prove the “10,000 rule” that indicates that expert performance in anything requires 10,000 hours of practice. The authors did two studies at Berlin music school, and analyzed them to death. They “proved” two awfully obvious points: (1) the biggest indicator of skill is number of hours of practice per week, and (2) the age at which one begins practicing.  Good to read, but not really groundbreaking.
  • The Practice of Adaptive Leadership: Tools and Tactics for Changing Your Organization and the World
    An except from a Harvard Business Review book about adaptive leadership, or leadership which isn’t dogmatic but rather identifies when problems are simple technical changes and when they’re more systemic changes requiring deeper adaptive changes.
  • Decisions without Blinders
    This is another HBR except about how to increase situational awareness when making decisions as a professional. Some good advice about “unpacking” situations before making decisions to ensure you’re taking all the available information into account.

The Story of San Fran’s Dysfunction

The Worst-Run Big City in the U.S.: This isn’t new, but it’s fun to read.  It catalog’s San Francisco’s apparently epic dysfunction.  It’s a polemic that runs so far off the rails, you can’t help but enjoy it.

The city’s ineptitude is no secret. "I have never heard anyone, even among liberals, say, ‘If only [our city] could be run like San Francisco,’" says urbanologist Joel Kotkin. "Even other liberal places wouldn’t put up with the degree of dysfunction they have in San Francisco. In Houston, the exact opposite of San Francisco, I assume you’d get shot."

I love this summation at the end.

As long as San Francisco is an alluring destination where residents will tolerate lunacy as a tradeoff for living the city lifestyle, and tourists flood the downtown, the city will lumber along, inefficiently and without accountability. "San Francisco is like the really good-looking coed who can get away with being a jerk, while a less good-looking one couldn’t," Kotkin says.

This is Why the NBA is Weird

Gregg Popovich, Spurs won’t get away with resting stars: I find it amazing that the NBA commissioner can sanction a team for a coaching decision.  Popovich let his stars rest, and he’s apparently going to be fined for it.

[…] it appears the league’s commissioner is about to come down hard on Popovich for his decision to send stars Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili and role player Danny Green home to San Antonio on Thursday night while the rest of the team lost at the Miami Heat 105-100 on national television.

"I apologize to all NBA fans," Stern said in a statement that was released after the Spurs-Heat game had tipped off. "This was an unacceptable decision by the San Antonio Spurs and substantial sanctions will be forthcoming."

So, Stern can fine a team for running a bad offense too?  At what point is the coach allowed to be pre-empted by the commissioner for a decision on how to run his team?

The Phantom Skills Gap

Skills Don’t Pay the Bills: This is the second report in a week I’ve read about how there’s not really a “skills gap” in American manufacturing (the first was a bit on 60 Minutes).  The problem isn’t that manufacturers can’t find skilled workers, the problem is that manufacturing jobs just don’t pay enough to compete with other alternatives.

At GenMet, the starting pay is $10 an hour. Those with an associate degree can make $15, which can rise to $18 an hour after several years of good performance. From what I understand, a new shift manager at a nearby McDonald’s can earn around $14 an hour.

The secret behind this skills gap is that it’s not a skills gap at all. I spoke to several other factory managers who also confessed that they had a hard time recruiting in-demand workers for $10-an-hour jobs.

[…] In a recent study, the Boston Consulting Group noted that, outside a few small cities that rely on the oil industry, there weren’t many places where manufacturing wages were going up and employers still couldn’t find enough workers. “Trying to hire high-skilled workers at rock-bottom rates,” the Boston Group study asserted, “is not a skills gap.”

Many manufacturers will complain that they can’t compete against low-wage countries in Asia, so they have to pay less. That’s probably true.  But that’s just math.  Don’t blame the worker.  Don’t blame McDonalds.

In the end, I guess just hope that Asian workers unionize and demand better wages.  So long as they’re willing to work for less, then the jobs which are going to pay better are ones that require a human being inside this countries borders. 

After all, you can’t manage a shift of unruly hamburger cooks from Asia.  Yet.

Removing the Health Insurance Middle Man

Dealing With Doctors Who Take Only Cash: I really enjoy it when people try new solutions.  The idea of taking insurance out of the patient-doctor relationship is radical, but it may be something for which the time has come.

The only catch was this pediatrician did not accept insurance. He had taken our credit card information before his visit and given us a form to submit to our insurance company as he left, saying insurance usually paid a portion of his fee, which was $650.

A couple of weeks later, our insurance company said it wouldn’t pay anything.

[…] While we were none too happy with the insurance company, we remained impressed by the doctor: he had made our baby better and was compensated for it, all the while avoiding the hassle of dealing with insurance.

This doctor made house calls – he traveled an hour to get to this couple’s home.  And it sounds like he’s a consultant-ish doctor, who may not even have a nurse of office to add to his overhead.

The article also tells of another doctor who is doing a subscription model:

“About four years ago, one insurance company was driving me crazy saying I had to fax documents to show I had done a visit,” said Stanford Owen, an internal medical doctor in Gulfport, Miss. “At 2 a.m., I woke up and said, ‘This is it.’ ”

Dr. Owen stopped accepting all insurance and now charges his 1,000 patients $38 a month.

We talked about this earlier – they’re calling it “office visit retainers.”

When you think about it, it’s kind of just another form of insurance — office visit insurance, I would call it.

The National Debt Explained (-ish)

The first half of this video is worth watching.  It makes some good points about the National Debt, which rolls up to a simple fact: the National Debt isn’t like other debts. It’s not free, by any stretch, but it’s not analogous to someone putting something on a credit card either.

Also, China doesn’t down all of our debt, contrary to popular belief.

The Pain of CrossFit

The Controversy Behind CrossFit: This article is a good roll-up of CrossFit – what’s good about it, and what’s bad about it.  It’s worth reading.

When I arrived, nothing seemed too intimidating except for the big clock with red numbers. It was those numbers that would define my ability to survive. The workout started well, but right around my fifth set of squats, when the weight became a little too heavy and my form began to falter, I put the bar down. But the clock did not approve.

2:37….2:36…2:35…

While the athletes around me kept moving, bewildered by my inaction, I knew my time was up. I could feel a twinge in my spine reminiscent of an old stress fracture. Everything—aside from the environment—told me to stop.

CrossFit is intense, there’s no doubt.  You are perpetually in some state of recovery or injury.  You never get fully-refreshed from CrossFit.  You’re constantly getting beaten down by it again.

For now, I love that.  Time will tell if that love affair holds.