Friday, October 31, 2008

Quotes on Competence

If you can do a half-assed job of anything, you're a one-eyed man in a kingdom of the blind.
- Kurt Vonnegut

The adversary she found herself forced to fight was not worth matching or beating; it was not a superior ability which she would have found honor in challenging; it was ineptitude - a gray spread of cotton that seemed soft and shapeless, that could offer no resistance to anything or anybody, yet managed to be a barrier in her way.
- Ayn Rand, Atlas Shrugged

I'm a huge fan of Lois McMaster Bujold's writing - the Vorkosigan Saga in particular.

The will to be stupid is a very powerful force, but there are always alternatives.
- Lois McMaster Bujold

And a potential inspiration for this quote

Everyone can be super! And when everyone's super-- [chuckles evilly] -- no one will be.
- Syndrome, in The Incredibles

is quite possibly

The year was 2081, and everyone was finally equal.
- Kurt Vonnegut

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

The Key to Greatness: Obsession

Guest post on the Zen Habits blog

Quote from a friend of the blogger:
If you want to be good at something, you have to to be obsessive. You have to do the thing all the time, and when you’re not doing it, you have to be thinking about doing it. Why do you think business people who make millions are so good at it? They’re always doing business. Even when they’re not working, they’re thinking about better ways to do business. Same with the greatest writers and painters. They obsess all the time.
James Watson's (of Watson and Crick) tips for greatness:
  • Go for broke
  • Have a way to get the answer
  • Be obsessive
  • Be part of a team
  • Talk to your opponents
  • Never be the brightest person on the room

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Progressive Tax - Socialist or Capitalist?

Link to New Yorker article

“Nobody likes high taxes,” Obama said. “Of course not.” Still, he explained:
I do believe that for folks like me who’ve worked hard but frankly also been lucky, I don’t mind paying just a little bit more than the waitress who I just met over there. . . . She can barely make the rent. . . . And I think that when you spread the wealth around, it’s good for everybody.
The principle that Obama evinced, which most economists would regard as unexceptionable, can be traced to Adam Smith. In “The Wealth of Nations” (1776), his seminal treatise on capitalism, Smith wrote:
The necessaries of life occasion the great expense of the poor. . . . The luxuries and vanities of life occasion the principal expense of the rich, and a magnificent house embellishes and sets off to the best advantage all the other luxuries and vanities which they possess. . . . It is not very unreasonable that the rich should contribute to the public expense, not only in proportion to their revenue, but something more than in that proportion.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Willing to follow Warren Buffett's advice?

Link to NY Times op-ed by Warren Buffett

The financial world is a mess, both in the United States and abroad.
Its problems, moreover, have been leaking into the general economy,
and the leaks are now turning into a gusher. In the near term,
unemployment will rise, business activity will falter and headlines
will continue to be scary.

So ... I've been buying American stocks.


A simple rule dictates my buying: Be fearful when others are greedy, and be greedy when others are fearful. And most certainly, fear is now widespread, gripping even seasoned investors. To be sure, investors are right to be wary of highly leveraged entities or businesses in weak competitive positions. But fears regarding the long-term prosperity of the nation's many sound companies make no sense. These businesses will indeed suffer earnings hiccups, as they always have. But most major companies will be setting new profit records 5, 10 and 20 years from now.

Today people who hold cash equivalents feel comfortable. They shouldn't. They have opted for a terrible long-term asset, one that pays virtually nothing and is certain to depreciate in value. Indeed, the policies that government will follow in its efforts to alleviate the current crisis will probably prove inflationary and therefore accelerate declines in the real value of cash accounts.

Equities will almost certainly outperform cash over the next decade, probably by a substantial degree. Those investors who cling now to cash are betting they can efficiently time their move away from it later. In waiting for the comfort of good news, they are ignoring Wayne Gretzky's advice: "I skate to where the puck is going to be, not to where it has been."

Thursday, October 16, 2008

A cynical view of life

Normal is getting dressed in clothes that you buy for work and driving through traffic in a car that you are still paying for - in order to get to the job you need to pay for the clothes and the car, and the house you leave vacant all day so you can afford to live in it.
- Ellen Goodman

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Quote from Seth Godin

Link to his brief blog article

Success is now the domain of people who lead. That doesn’t mean they’re in charge, it doesn’t mean they are the CEO, it merely means that for a group, even a small group, they show the way, they spread ideas, they make change. Those people are the only successful people we’ve got.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Excellent quotes

Reading is to the mind what exercise is to the body.
- Sir Richard Steele

The true measure of a man is how he treats someone who can do him absolutely no good.
- Samuel Johnson

The modern form of Samuel Johnson's quote is "The Waiter Rule"

"Watch out for people who have a situational value system, who can turn the charm on and off depending on the status of the person they are interacting with. Be especially wary of those who are rude to people perceived to be in subordinate roles."

Nearly all men can stand adversity - but give him power, and the extent of his character will be revealed.
- Anonymous

Everything that irritates us about others can lead us to an understanding of ourselves.
- Carl Jung

“Be Content with what you have; rejoice in the way things are. When you realize there is nothing lacking, the whole world belongs to you.”
- Lao Tzu

From a post titled "The Lazy Manifesto" at

My definition of an expert in any field is a person who knows enough about what's really going on to be scared.
- PJ Plauger

"Wisdom begins in wonder."
- Socrates

Every increased possession loads us with new weariness.
- John Ruskin

Education is the ability to listen to almost anything without losing your temper or your self-confidence.
- Robert Frost

From a post about Socratic living at

The way to find out about happiness is to keep your mind on those moments when you feel most happy, when you are really happy — not excited, not just thrilled, but deeply happy. This requires a little bit of self-analysis. What is it that makes you happy? Stay with it, no matter what people tell you. This is what is called following your bliss.
- Joseph Campbell

We must let go of the life we have planned, so as to accept the one that is waiting for us.
- Joseph Campbell

We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.
- Aristotle

If you can’t solve a problem, it’s because you’re playing by the rules.
- Paul Arden

The truth is, creativity isn’t about wild talent as much as it’s about productivity. To find a few ideas that work, you need to try a lot that don’t. It’s a pure numbers game.
- Robert Sutton, a professor of management science and engineering at Stanford Engineering School.

The combination of some data and an aching desire for an answer does not ensure that a reasonable answer can be extracted from a given body of data.
- John Tukey

Monday, October 6, 2008

A Subtle (But Important) Distinction

Link to Erik Rasmussen's blog article

Agnosticism versus Atheism

Let’s examine the subtle difference in meaning between the following two sentences.
  1. An atheist believes that God does not exist.
  2. An atheist does not believe that God exists.
I suspect that all people who call themselves atheists share my complaint about the definition of atheism. I’ve looked up the word in three dictionaries, and they all say that #1 is more correct. I really hate that. When I call myself an atheist, I’m using definition #2. The second definition better represents the scientific line of thinking, specifically the null hypothesis, that leads one to atheism. The null hypothesis states that any extraordinary claim must be assumed to be false and the burden of proof is on the claimant. If sufficient reason to believe the claim is not given, one should not believe it is true. Notice that…
not believe is true != believe is false

Friday, October 3, 2008

The Role of Management - Joel Spolsky

Joel Spolsky's article at

Three stories: Juno, Microsoft, and Fog Creek
Bonus: GE Durham Engine Plant

For a company of Juno's size -- it had about 150 employees at the time - there seemed to be a disproportional number of managers.

I noticed too many situations in which members of top management happily issued an executive fiat even though they were the least qualified to make a decision. I'm not saying that they were stupid, mind you. Most of the managers at Juno were quite smart. But they had hired even smarter people to work for them: people with advanced degrees, raw intellectual firepower, and years of experience. And these people would work on a problem for a long time, come up with a pretty good solution, and then watch in surprise as their bosses overruled them. Executives who did not have specific technical knowledge and who had not studied a problem in depth would swoop down and issue some random, uninformed decree, and it would be implemented - often with farcical results.

A bit of Redmond lore: Two software designers got into a debate over how something should be implemented. The question was highly technical. They couldn't reach agreement, so they went to their boss, a guy named Mike Maples, who was the vice president in charge of the applications division.

"What do I know about this?" he yelled at them. "Of the three people in this room, I'm the one who knows the least. You guys have been hashing this out for hours. I'm the last person who should be deciding. Work it out."

And frankly, people here seem to be happier with a little bit of middle management. Not middle management that's going to overrule the decisions they make on their own. Not symbolic middle management that only makes people feel important. But middle management that creates useful channels of communication. If my job is getting obstacles out of the way so my employees can get their work done, these managers exist so that, when an employee has a local problem, there's someone there, in the office next door, whom they can talk to.

Ah.....Lego =)

Post at Dan's Blog (of fame)

The set mentioned in the post is very cool-looking Lego Technic Excavator. The picture is a little disappointing, so here's the Amazon link. I just think it's awesome because the idea of a Lego gearbox is just so cool. I don't think it beats the gearbox in the Lego Technic Super Street Sensation, which actually has multiple speeds, in addition to reverse. In Lego!

I remember my summer of Lego, during grad school, with the huge Etoys order for an excessive number of mostly Star Wars sets (darn you, Ultimate Collector's Series, for being so tempting)

Favorite sets
Super Street Sensation
UCS X-Wing

Honorary mention
Silver Champion

Sets I wish I was foolish enough to own
Imperial Star Destroyer
Millenium Falcon

Top-ranked set on Lugnet
Green Grocer
Seems technically cool (3 floors, lots of detail), but not sexy like the Super Street Sensation