Paul Graham has a new essay up on separating Maker’s Schedules from Manager’s Schedules:

One reason programmers dislike meetings so much is that they’re on a different type of schedule from other people. Meetings cost them more.

There are two types of schedule, which I’ll call the manager’s schedule and the maker’s schedule. The manager’s schedule is for bosses. It’s embodied in the traditional appointment book, with each day cut into one hour intervals. You can block off several hours for a single task if you need to, but by default you change what you’re doing every hour.

When you use time that way, it’s merely a practical problem to meet with someone. Find an open slot in your schedule, book them, and you’re done.

Most powerful people are on the manager’s schedule. It’s the schedule of command. But there’s another way of using time that’s common among people who make things, like programmers and writers. They generally prefer to use time in units of half a day at least. You can’t write or program well in units of an hour. That’s barely enough time to get started.

When you’re operating on the maker’s schedule, meetings are a disaster. A single meeting can blow a whole afternoon, by breaking it into two pieces each too small to do anything hard in. Plus you have to remember to go to the meeting. That’s no problem for someone on the manager’s schedule. There’s always something coming on the next hour; the only question is what. But when someone on the maker’s schedule has a meeting, they have to think about it.

For someone on the maker’s schedule, having a meeting is like throwing an exception. It doesn’t merely cause you to switch from one task to another; it changes the mode in which you work.

I find one meeting can sometimes affect a whole day. A meeting commonly blows at least half a day, by breaking up a morning or afternoon. But in addition there’s sometimes a cascading effect. If I know the afternoon is going to be broken up, I’m slightly less likely to start something ambitious in the morning. I know this may sound oversensitive, but if you’re a maker, think of your own case. Don’t your spirits rise at the thought of having an entire day free to work, with no appointments at all? Well, that means your spirits are correspondingly depressed when you don’t. And ambitious projects are by definition close to the limits of your capacity. A small decrease in morale is enough to kill them off.

And from Malcolm Gladwell’s The Tipping Point on identifying trendsetters:

“If you ask kids what worries them, the trendsetter kids pick up on things like germ warfare, or terrorism. They pick up on the bigger-picture things, whereas the mainstream kids think about being overweight, or their grandparents dying, or how well they are doing in school. You see more activists in trendsetters. People with more passion.”

…and then some crap on being an individual and dancing to the beat of a different drum, etc. In short: “do you identify with more with interpersonal issues or societal issues?” Not that it matters really. Everybody worries and it’s all the same to each of us.

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Radical Technology

I’ve been digging through the section on communications in Radical Technology, the 1976 anthology of the magazine Undercurrents.

The global village is no such thing. It is a global castle, in which the barons may chat over their wine, while the serfs outside may overhear a few fragments of merriment.

Our planet does boast some fine communications systems: there are only a few holes left to be darned in the net of radio, TV and telephone which covers the continents. The engineers praise the vast capactiy of their systems. The talk of bits and bauds and erlangs. But their voices merge with those of the advertisers boasting of peak-hour audiences and market penetration.

The fallacy that more information, more communication must be good spreads even into the counterculture. Underground film-makers machine-gun their audiences with random images and subliminal cuts. Alternative newspapers boost their data density by printing each paragraph on multiple undercoats of coloured image.

The “information economy” stresses quantity rather than quality. It values complex data above simple truths. Computers now thrash through megabits of information in order to direct-mail us an advertising circular.

Words were not wasted in the the days when people could only engrave them on stone.

Economic and ecological self-sufficiency are respectively the prerequisites of both national liberation and of global survival. Cultural self-sufficiency must be established as part of the same revolutionary process. If a community is to be free of outside domination it must generate its own crafts, stories, architecture and rituals. This is not an argument for cultural apartheid. But it clearly presupposes radical changes in a global communications system whose greatest achievement to date has been to let ten million Japanse watch Princess Anne’s wedding. One day, the serfs must storm the global castle.

And on using half-inch portable video for community television:

The animator [the producer] should be neutral; act only when invited; help, but not direct, the slection and debate of issues [John] Hopkins adds. The Challenge for Change [a community video group] worker, as he says, becomes a “spark plug for process rather than a creator of product, and could use his previous liability as an outsider to mediate difficulties and bring conflicting parties together.”

Community television looks for consens. It uncovers ‘issues’, records opinions supporting either side, and then tries to resolve them by getting people together to watch the tapes and talk. It hopes for ‘media-tion’.
Video is prolific. Little community voice is left after cutting thirty hours of tape to thirty minutes. Standards rapidly become ‘production’ ones. Is this man interesting? Can this accent be understood? Does this woman help the argument? The editor has to choose.

Half-inch video benefits from the shadow of the BBC and network television. ‘Television’ remains a magic word. IT takes moral courage not to talk to television. Part of the ‘magic of portable television rests in the power handed down from the corporations. Community television must avoid abusing this power.

Broadcast television has established a convention of aggressive questioning. The danger is that community video can quickly become as bland.

The ‘good life’ has become a television commercial. Community must not become a television dialogue.

Community TV offers the technological fix—using the technology of an oppressive society. Like an Arab firing a Sam 7 missile, the video freak depends on high technology. If that is switched off, he is out of business. As long as his ‘freaking out’ is profitable and amusing he can continue. But when it becomes revolutionary he is soon back to the pot of whitewash and a wall.

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norman rockwell - moving day

Visiting Western Massachussetts this weekend—Angelina sang at Tanglewood—we visited the Norman Rockwell Museum. It was beautiful in the Berkshires and while I can’t speak to the comprehensiveness of the collection, it was just what I wanted. Norman Rockwell is one of my favorite americana motifs to wallow in.

At the museum’s center was the Four Freedoms paintings. The feeling I had from reading that speech in high school—and the Port Huron Statement in college—is one of my most comforting whenever I get bogged in the cynicism of politics: that the current state of affairs (whatever they may be) is not for lack of dreams.

When looking at the paintings, I had to remind myself of the false appeal I hear to better times. As I learned from the museum, much of what I consider fantasy was that—the policy during the Great Depression was to avoid grim reality—or the lack of color among faces—the policy of the Saturday Evening Post was to only show african-americans if they were performing a service job.

As a tool, the drawings make a powerful message for equality and pluralism: Isn’t this wonderful? Shouldn’t have this idyllic life. This shouldn’t be an America reserved for just one race or class. Which brings up what all this harkens too—and ironically in this context, I am least moved by the I have a dream partis that these paintings are the promissory notes of which all should be able to cash.

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I have been slowly making my way through Malcolm Gladwell’s The Tipping Point (one book among many). The cognitive bias being discussed at the moment is Fundamental Attribution Error (or Actor-Observer Bias, Correspondence Bias or Attribution Effect), in which humans tend to ascribe actions to some innate properties of the actor, rather than the context of the action.

Some years ago two Princeton University psychologists, John Darley and Daniel Batson, decided to conduct a study inspired by the biblical story of the Good Samaritan.

Darley and Batson decided to replicate that study at the Princeton Theological Seminary … Darley and Batson met with a group of seminarians, individually, and asked each one to prepare a short, extemporaneous talk on a given biblical theme, then walk over to a nearby building to present it. Along the way to the presentation, each student ran into a man slumped in an alley, head down, eyes closed, coughing and groaning. The question was, who would stop and help? Darley and Batson introduced three variables into the experiment, to make its results more meaningful. First, before the experiment even started, they gave the students a questionnaire about why they had chosen to study theology. Did they see religion as a means for personal and spiritual fulfillment? Or were they looking for a practical tool for finding meaning in everyday life? Then they varied the subject of the theme the students were asked to talk about. Some were asked to speak on the relevance of the professional clergy to the religious vocation. Others were given the parable of the Good Samaritan. Finally, the instructions given by the experimenters to each student varied as well. In some of the cases, as he sent the students on their way, the experimenter would look at his watch and say, ‘Oh, you’re late. They were expecting you a few minutes ago. We’d better get moving.’ In other cases, he would say, ‘It will be a few minutes before they’re ready for you, but you might as well head over now.’

If you ask people to predict which seminarians played the Good Samaritan (and subsequent studies have done just this) their answers are highly consistent. They almost all say that the students who entered the ministry to help people and those reminded of the importance of compassion by having just read the parable of the Good Samaritan will be the most likely to stop. Most of us, I think, would agree with those conclusions. In fact, neither of those factors made any difference. ‘It is hard to think of a context in which norms concerning helping those in distress are more salient than for a person thinking about the Good Samaritan, and yet it did not significantly increase helping behavior,’ Darley and Batson concluded. ‘Indeed, on several occasions, a seminary student going to give his talk on the parable of the Good Samaritan literally stepped over the victim as he hurried on his way.’ The only thing that really mattered was whether the student was in a rush. Of the group that was, 10 percent stopped to help. Of the group who knew they had a few minutes to spare, 63 percent stopped.

What this study is suggesting, in other words, is that the convictions of your heart and the actual contents of your thoughts are less important, in the end, in guiding your actions than the immediate context of your behavior. The words ‘Oh, you’re late’ had the effect of making someone who was ordinarily compassionate into someone who was indifferent to suffering—of turning someone, in that particular moment, into a different person.

But then, the lessons of humanity to be gained (once you have studied up on the Monkey Firehose and the Monkey Pay-Per-View) is that you should be in a hurry because who is to know whether you are late or early upon your true path. And eat your spinach.

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My friend Thomas posted a status message to Facebook “wonders why Republicans hate America?”. This is where I’m at:

Define your terms! :-) By “America” do you mean?

  1. a pluralist society striving for a more representative government and greater civil liberties
  2. a consensus society seeking a return to a more stable civic life built upon firm social and ethical principles
  3. a geo-political demarcation for a group of people equally as unexceptional as everyone else.

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Capote divx

Donald Rumsfield admitted that chucking the Geneva Conventions (and 50 years of military policy) came out of a bad process:

As he explained in an interview in late 2008, policies were developing so fast in the weeks after the September 11 attacks that he did not follow his own normal procedures. “All of a sudden, it was just all happening, and the general counsel’s office in the Pentagon had the lead,” he said. “It never registered in my mind in this particular instance–it did in almost every other case–that these issues ought to be in a policy development or management posture. Looking back at it now, I have a feeling that was a mistake. In retrospect, it would have been better to take all of those issues and put them in the hands of policy or management.”

They went the legal route (“the law isn’t clearly against us”) rather than the policy/management path (“how fully are we screwed if we do this?”).

And, if that administration was as biblical as they claimed to be, they should have figured it out: even when following The Law, God is still a mean dude.

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