Friday, June 28, 2013

The 40-hour work week and consumerism

Post at Thought Catalog

The ultimate tool for corporations to sustain a culture of this sort is to develop the 40-hour workweek as the normal lifestyle. Under these working conditions people have to build a life in the evenings and on weekends. This arrangement makes us naturally more inclined to spend heavily on entertainment and conveniences because our free time is so scarce.

This seems like a problem with a simple answer: work less so I’d have more free time. I’ve already proven to myself that I can live a fulfilling lifestyle with less than I make right now. Unfortunately, this is close to impossible in my industry, and most others. You work 40-plus hours or you work zero. My clients and contractors are all firmly entrenched in the standard-workday culture, so it isn’t practical to ask them not to ask anything of me after 1 p.m., even if I could convince my employer not to.

But the 8-hour workday is too profitable for big business, not because of the amount of work people get done in eight hours (the average office worker gets less than three hours of actual work done in 8 hours) but because it makes for such a purchase-happy public. Keeping free time scarce means people pay a lot more for convenience, gratification, and any other relief they can buy. It keeps them watching television, and its commercials. It keeps them unambitious outside of work.

We’ve been led into a culture that has been engineered to leave us tired, hungry for indulgence, willing to pay a lot for convenience and entertainment, and most importantly, vaguely dissatisfied with our lives so that we continue wanting things we don’t have. We buy so much because it always seems like something is still missing.

Friday, August 3, 2012

Market-free zones in market societies

Blog post at Valve

A long, fascinating post about what corporations are, how they arose, what their role is, and how they could change in the future.

As mentioned in the post, reading the Valve survival manual is critical for comprehension of what Dr. Varoufakis is talking about.

Some highlights:

  • Valve differs in that it insists that its employees allocate 100% of their time on projects of their choosing. 100% is a radical number! It means that Valve operates without a system of command. In other words, it seeks to achieve order not via fiat, command or hierarchy but, instead, spontaneously. [This is followed by some history regarding Hume vs Hobbes, with further reference to Smith and Hayek]
  • Capitalist corporations are on the way to certain extinction. Replete with hierarchies that are exceedingly wasteful of human talent and energies, intertwined with toxic finance, co-dependent with political structures that are losing democratic legitimacy fast, a form of post-capitalist, decentralised corporation will, sooner or later, emerge. The eradication of distribution and marginal costs, the capacity of producers to have direct access to billions of customers instantaneously, the advances of open source communities and mentalities, all these fascinating developments are bound to turn the autocratic Soviet-like megaliths of today into curiosities that students of political economy, business studies et al will marvel at in the future, just like school children marvel at dinosaur skeletons at the Natural History museum.
Well worth a full read, particularly by those who've worked in a corporation.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Stop Stealing Dreams: What is School For?

Seth Godin has written an book, which can be viewed for free here.

Some lines (or paraphrases of them) that I liked:
  • Section 16: What is school for? ... learning is not done to you. Learning is something you choose to do.
  • Section 21: Two bumper stickers: "Cut School Taxes" and "Make School Different". Which one would you put on your car?
  • Section 33: Harvard Business School turns out management consultants in far greater numbers than it develops successful bootstrapping entrepreneurs. Ralph Lauren, David Geffen and Ted Turner all dropped out of college because they felt the real challenges lay elsewhere.
  • Section 38: Scientific schooling uses precisely the same techniques as scientific management. Measure (test) everyone. Often. Figure out which inputs are likely to create testable outputs. If an output isn’t easily testable, ignore it. It would be a mistake to say that scientific education doesn’t work. It does work. It creates what we test. Unfortunately, the things we desperately need (and the things that make us happy) aren’t the same things that are easy to test.
  • Section 39: The other route—the road to the top—is for the few who figure out how to be linchpins and artists. People who are hired because they’re totally worth it, because they offer insight and creativity and innovation that just can’t be found easily. Scarce skills combined with even scarcer attitudes almost always lead to low unemployment and high wages.
  • Section 46: But I am wondering when we decided that the purpose of school was to cram as much data/trivia/fact into every student as we possibly could. Because that’s what we’re doing. We’re not only avoiding issues of practicality and projects and hands-on use of information; we’re also aggressively testing for trivia.
  • Section 52: The real debate if you’re a worker is: do you want a job where they’ll miss you if you’re gone, a job where only you can do it, a job where you get paid to bring yourself (your true self) to work? Because those jobs are available. In fact, there’s no unemployment in that area. OR do you want a job where you’re racing to the bottom—where your job is to do your job, do as you’re told, and wait for the boss to pick you?
  • Section 70: What matters is that motivation is the only way to generate real learning, actual creativity, and the bias for action that is necessary for success.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Common Cooking/Baking Mistakes

Article at Cooking Light

This list contains a number of fundamental mistakes, nicely illustrated with clear pictures. I found it quite informative (although that of course means that I was making many of the mistakes that were listed)...

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Non-intuitive Government Policy #39213

Article at The Atlantic

Behind Door #1 are people of extraordinary ability: scientists, artists, educators, business people and athletes. Behind Door #2 stand a random assortment of people. Which door should the United States open?

In 2010, the United States more often chose Door #2, setting aside about 40,000 visas for people of extraordinary ability and 55,000 for people randomly chosen by lottery.

It's just one small example of our bizarre U.S. policy toward high-skill immigrants.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

The Overjustification Effect

Blog post at You Are Not So Smart
Related to intrinsic versus extrinsic motivation

According to the research, in modern America the average income required to be happy day-to-day, to experience “emotional well being” is about $75,000 a year. According to the researchers, past that point adding more to your income “does nothing for happiness, enjoyment, sadness, or stress.”

In 1980, David Rosenfield, Robert Folger and Harold Adelman at Southern Methodist University revealed a way you can defeat the overjustification effect. Seek employers who dole out reward – paychecks, bonuses, promotions, etc. – based not on quotas or task completions but instead based on competence.

The results of the study suggested when you get rewarded based on how well you perform a task, as long as those reasons are made perfectly clear, rewards will generate that electric exuberance of intrinsic validation, and the higher the reward, the better the feeling and the more likely you will try harder in the future. On the other hand, if you are getting rewarded just for being a warm body, no matter how well you do your job, no matter what you achieve, the electric feeling is absent. In those conditions greater rewards don’t lead to more output, don’t encourage you to strive for greatness. Overall, the study suggested rewards don’t have motivational power unless they make you feel competent. Money alone doesn’t do that.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Teach practical math

Article at the New York Times

A math curriculum that focused on real-life problems would still expose students to the abstract tools of mathematics, especially the manipulation of unknown quantities. But there is a world of difference between teaching “pure” math, with no context, and teaching relevant problems that will lead students to appreciate how a mathematical formula models and clarifies real-world situations.

Imagine replacing the sequence of algebra, geometry and calculus with a sequence of finance, data and basic engineering. In the finance course, students would learn the exponential function, use formulas in spreadsheets and study the budgets of people, companies and governments. In the data course, students would gather their own data sets and learn how, in fields as diverse as sports and medicine, larger samples give better estimates of averages. In the basic engineering course, students would learn the workings of engines, sound waves, TV signals and computers. Science and math were originally discovered together, and they are best learned together now.