Friday, September 30, 2011

"There's nothing noble about being superior to some other man. The true nobility is in being superior to your previous self."

--Hindu proverb"

It's best when you outdo yourself. Its hard not to focus on the other person. But then they may just bring you down to their own level. Our politics is infested with people worried about how well the other person is doing and what they got in comparison to you. That's too bad since it could help lift both all of us up and make life better for the next generations to come.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

"Kids in Africa have more information today than the President of the United States did 15 years ago."

-- Ray Kurzweil*

The pace of change accelerates even to the furthest reaches of the world (or at least what used to seem like the furthest reaches of the world). If an African kid is advantaged relative to Bill Clinton circa 1996, then the U.S. needs to be moving faster in order to keep the challenges and challengers at bay.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

"Not everything that counts can be counted, and not everything that can be counted counts."

- Sign hanging in Einstein's office at Princeton*

If Einstein knew this, why don't so many others who seem to believe that quantifying things give us the results we need when there are many elements that aren't easily quantifiable that tell us part of the picture.

To give just one example, can you really measure the dynamism of an organization based on its quarterly or even annual profit figures? Can it be dynamic without great results at the moment? Aren't results sometimes non-linear? And isn't this, perhaps, proof of a dynamic organization (i.e. if the results are linear, like the results of GE under Jack Welch's years, are proof that something's not quite right)?

Just wondering.

* hat tip, Tom Peters tweet
We like to think that every big leap in technology was the result of technical ingenuity. The following story from Steve Levy's new book on Google suggests some real "off-line" solutions can have big on-line improvements.

A legendary story at Google illustrated this principle. Around 2002, a team was testing a subset of search limited to products, called Froogle. But one problem was so glaring that the team wasn’t comfortable releasing Froogle: when the query “running shoes” was typed in, the top result was a garden gnome sculpture that happened to be wearing sneakers. Every day engineers would try to tweak the algorithm so that it would be able to distinguish between lawn art and footwear, but the gnome kept its top position. One day, seemingly miraculously, the gnome disappeared from the results. At a meeting, no one on the team claimed credit. Then an engineer arrived late, holding an elf with running shoes. He had bought the one-of-a kind product from the vendor, and since it was no longer for sale, it was no longer in the index. “The algorithm was now returning the right results,” says a Google engineer. “We didn’t cheat, we didn’t change anything, and we launched.”

Levy, Steven (2011). In The Plex (Kindle Locations 1255-1262). Simon & Schuster. Kindle Edition.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Do the Republicans really want to win the presidency? Why should they? They're chances of reaching their goals are greater without the White House while the Democrats can take the blame.

The key elements of this...
-the deficit which will stay high even though its the legacy of the Bush Administration
-a filibuster to prevent major inroads if the Democrats keep control of the Senate
-a further of undermining of people's confidence in the government since while it would seem the pro-government types are in control things aren't getting all that much better.
-defunding the key components of the health care legislation so it looks ineffective and weak and proves that the legislation was a power grab that resulted in everyone being worse off.
-Obama fits this deceptive narrative well -- his personality, that he's African-American, even as he's not able to rally his own side.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Excellent post at Brad DeLong's blog on how higher education doesn't compete so much on price as on quality / reputation / inputs of various sorts. As he points out, there are aspects in which this input focused model of competition resembles the health care market (if you can get the best doctor you're less price sensitive).

Costs and competition in higher education

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Good Bill Schneider piece on the importance of energy prices in influencing the public mood. He's generally a cautious prognosticator yet he argues to expect Republicans to be exposed to a similar reaction on their focus on the deficit as the Democrats faced on health care in 2009. Watch out.

Remember back in 2009, when President Obama insisted on talking about health-care reform when the country wanted to hear about jobs? That was the Great Disconnect, and Democrats paid a price for it. Now House Republicans insist on talking about national debt while the country wants to hear about gas prices. Welcome to the Great Disconnect, Act Two.