Saturday, October 6, 2012

The Wait

File under Procrastinate

Procrastination has such a negative connotation.  it's the label of the slackers, the lazy, the 'you'll never amount to much'.  But Procrastination could also be considered the 8th habit of highly effective people and in Frank Partnoy's book Wait he terms it Optimizing Delay.  In a review of the book in Psychology Today, columnist Matt Huston notes that Partnoy's strategy is predicated on the fact that "skilled decision makers take as much time as they reasonably can to prepare for their decision before they make it."  This strategy allows for the collection of as much information regarding the decision or task as possible, as well as allows clarity on whether the task is truly important or not.  Partnoy lends weight to the belief that being quick is not as important as being correct. 

Maybe knowing when the decision or task has to be completed is just as important as knowing the details.

Song of the Day
Recent events have actually led this to being a perfect song of the day. First of all, because of an ill-timed cold i was unable to go to the Virgin Free Music Festival today here in Maryland.  I was invited by an old college buddy of mine and unfortunately i am sitting here while he is having fun listening to Jack White.  But the band featured here is also in the lineup of the music festival.  Secondly, the song is actually a cover of one of my favorite Pixies songs, and coincidentally i heard it a week ago at a French wedding. There are few things more surreal than being in the French countryside at a wedding reception where you can communicate with only 5% of the guests and then you hear a Pixies' song as a part of the wedding playlist. In honor of trans-national musical taste, the Song of the Day is the Pixies' "Where is My Mind" covered by Trampled by Turtles.

Friday, August 31, 2012

The 8 Hour Rule

File under Get a Smaller Plate

Happy Labor Day weekend everyone! 

As we lament the end of summer and the beginning of the long slog through fall and winter we probably don't even spend a moment to think about the purpose of Labor day and what it signifies.  And while i'm not actually writing about that, I am reminded of an article I read about the 8-hour work day and how the concept relates to our failure to associate activities with our goals.

Work researcher and columnist Sara Robinson wrote in that the labor movement of the late 19th and early 20th centuries helped establish the 40 hour a week concept as commonplace. And during that time there were countless research studies into the benefits of the idea. Based on that research she notes, Henry Ford reduced his plant workers’ daily hours from 9 to 8, resulting in an increase in productivity. Competitors quickly  followed suit. Even into the 1960’s research indicated the benefits of limiting work to 40 hours a week. Robinson writes that:

“What these studies showed, over and over, was that industrial workers have eight good, reliable hours a day in them. On average you get no more widgets out of a 10 hour day than you do out of an eight hour day. Likewise, the overall output for the work week will be exactly the same at the end of six days as it would be after five days.”

What shouldn’t get lost in that analysis is how the same productivity occurs in two separate time periods. It’s not like a ten-hour a day worker produces widgets for 8 hours then sits back and does nothing even though they are on the clock for two more hours. They are still producing, albeit at a much slower rate, understandably because of fatigue, apathy, and lack of sustained concentration. So in those last two hours if they are still producing widgets, and they average the same total amount over the entire time period as if they had only worked 8 hours, then logically in the first eight hours of a ten hour work day they produced less than they did in a standard eight hour day. Think about that, because the worker knew he had more time to produce he actually became less productive.

But there are two productivity models at play here. This model is based on a manufacturing and productivity metric - produce as many items as you can in a certain amount of time. There is no set goal, other than maybe a minimum quota. The only thing set is the amount of time in which to work. Your productivity is output based. Unfortunately in non-manufacturing, non-quota based employment models we apply the same metric. Work for more time and do as many things possible in that time period. There is no correlation of our productivity to the ultimate goal. In non-manufacturing settings our goal maybe to close a sale, ace the final exam, etc. But we confuse the models and replace making widgets with sending emails, creating presentations, going to meetings, creating spreadsheets. Although this work may be extremely valuable, what is the connection to our outcome? We too often assume that by working more, we are more effective and productive and may be surprised when our efforts do not result in achievement of the goal.

Song of the Day
Well this is certainly not in support of any goals you may have and in fact may set you back temporally and intellectually, but who cares.  In honor of viral song parodies the song of the day is Korean star PSY's "Gangnam Style", subsequently parodied by the University of Oregon Duck mascot et al.

There are few words to describe this video.  Funny, random, disturbing, addictive...none do it justice.

Friday, July 6, 2012

The Weekly Theory 7.6.12

File under Useless Information

Happy belated 4th of July everyone!

Somewhere in the not too distant past i went from loving fireworks to having the refined opinion of 'Eh." [insert shoulder shrug]  I think it has something to do with the expectation of what is to come.  After the first 5 minutes i get it.  I've seen 'em all.  Let's just get to a bunch at one time. And make it really loud.  I would rather the entire show was a 5 minute grand finale, instead of 29 1/2 minutes of the same thing prior to all hell breaking loose.

My wife, however, is a different story.  She could watch fireworks for an hour and not get bored.  But she did come up with this week's theory. 

I Have a Theory...

...that if you have to ask if this is the grand finale, it probably isn't.

You'll'll know.

Song of the Day
In honor of Grand Finales, here is a patriotic song (albeit not originally for the U.S.) that has a pretty good one. Might as well listen to the first 30 seconds then skip to 4:55.  The Song of the Day is Tchaikovsky's 1812 Overture.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

The Reunion

File under Set the Bar Low

This past Friday night was my 20th High School reunion.

20 years. That’s a long time.

But it’s not the years that have had more of an effect on me, rather it’s the realization that there is a part of my history, of who I am, that I am missing. It was roughly 20 years ago that I left Houston, Texas after graduating to head to college and make my way. I wanted to get out of Texas and I did. Way out of Texas. In fact I went out of my way to move on from High School, drifting away from friends and even farther from acquaintances. Maybe it’s natural, maybe not. In any case, I had little contact with those I walked the school halls with, until the past few weeks. Unfortunately because of work, and 1,300 miles, I wasn’t able to make it to the reunion. But, thanks to the gloriousness that is Facebook I’ve been able to keep up with the pre-, during, and post-reunion chatter, and I have had two realizations:

First is the feeling that there is a whole group of other people who I share a common history with. They may have had different experiences and recollections, but in some way they are my past. They are a part of me. No matter how distant. And I miss that.

Second, and more in line with the Perfect Antidote theme, is that people make the most of their lives. We all had hopes and dreams, we all had life plans. But whether we followed them exactly, or whether our dreams came true, we all etched out a niche of happiness that fits who we are, not someone else who tells us what success is.

Happiness is being in the presence of those who you love and who love you. Happiness is in sharing both good and bad times with people. And happiness is remembering where you came from.

I’m looking forward to 25.

Song of the Day
In honor, of going back to high school, even if it was virtually, the song of the day is by a great new band Half Moon Run called “Full Circle”.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

The Titanic

File under Understanding the Problem

James Cameron is having a big year.  First he will soon be descending 36,000 feet down in a submersible vehicle to the most remote place on earth, Mariana's Trench.  And second, and clearly more important, is the release this year of Titanic 3-D.  Spoiler alert:  The iceberg did it.

It's with that backdrop that there is a timely report, originally from Sky and Telescope magazine and later editorialized in National Geographic.  The report describes a unique celestial alignment that may have ultimately led to the Titanic disaster, and i'm not talking about the impending 3-D release of the movie. 
Almost 4 months prior to the ship colliding with an iceberg and sinking off the coast of Newfoundland, the earth, moon, and sun were perfectly aligned in a typical Full moon phase which normally causes more extreme high and low tides. However compounding this "Spring Tide" was the fact that the moon made one of the closest passes to earth since A.D. 762.  The report researchers indicated that this may have exacerbated the tides and resulted in Greenland ice chunks breaking off and setting out on the Labrador Currents, or that existing icebergs that had becomed lodged, were now freed in the high tides.  They postulated that there was an increase in ice flow into the Atlantic that may have played a part in the disaster. 

The National Geographic article was careful to include debate from other scientists that the tides may not have been that uniquely extreme during that time of that year, however even the possibility of compounding factors shows that the sinking may have been more of a Black Swan event than previously thought.  The study is a good reminder that there is rarely one cause or reason for an outcome, but rather many complex interactoins.  And that laying blame at the foot of one reason, or putting hope in one obvious cause may be just as foolish.

The Daily Physics Problem
Describe the physics behind the fact that in the movie Titanic, Jack and Rose can have sex in the very small backseat of a model T, yet can't seem to make room for each other on, what seems like, a sizeable floating piece of wood at the end of the movie.    

The Cliff Claven Fact of the Day
It's a little known fact that in April it will be the 100th anniversary of the sinking, and even more amazing, this year is the 15th anniversary of the movie. 
The Song of the Day
In honor of the Titanic, the song of the day is Celine Dion's "My Heart..."  Sorry, i can't do that with a straight face.  The song of the day is Wyclef Jean's "Anything Can Happen."

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

The St. Valentimes Day

File under Useless Information

Happy Valentine's everyone!

Song of the Day
In honor of the coolest woman on the face of the earth, the song of the day is 311's "My Stoney Baby", a song i heard 19 years ago and had no idea it was about my future wife.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

The Nuclear Meltdown and Willie Nelson

File under Meet Yourself

Several months ago, in fact very near the beginning of this blog, i wrote about the 'entropy of endeavor' and the distribution of effort across the professional landscape. 

But this concept relates to more than professions. And is more prevalent in our everyday lives than we think. There are a finite number of cheerleader positions, lead roles in the school play, state delegates, or vice presidents in your company. Despite the demonstration of excellence, the individual may be in a pool of other excellent individuals, thus not achieving success despite doing everything in his or her power. The small fish in a big pond paradigm reigns supreme. And this brings us to the concept of Incidence versus Prevalence.

On March 28th 1979, at a power plant in Dauphin County, Pennsylvania, a series of operator misunderstandings, mechanical failures, and procedural neglect resulted in a valve remaining open and releasing large amounts of cooling water. Now for most power generation facilities the loss of cooling water can have significant impact through operational delays and damaged equipment. But the loss of cooling water for this plant in particular resulted in a catastrophic and devastating partial nuclear meltdown. This was Three Mile Island Nuclear power plant. And although it was a location many had never previously heard of, it was now a place most of the world could not stop talking about.

The accident resulted in a release of small but significant amounts of radioactive krypton and iodine.  This accident was almost an incomprehensible ‘system accident’, or ‘black swan’ event, but across the US and even the world, the underlying fears of harnessing this awesome power for ‘good’ bubbled to the surface in an overwhelming wave of anti-nuclear, “I told you so” admonishment. Radioactive iodine is a known carcinogen and its main etiology is Thyroid cancer. Immediately following the incident, the Environmental Protection Agency and public health officials began to conduct environmental sampling and study the populations surrounding the plant for evidence of radiation poisoning.  Even testing local deer population.

But despite claims of increased cases of cancer and other deleterious health effects, to this day there is majority scientific consensus that there was no statistical increase in cancer rates following the meltdown.  Many anti-nuclear advocates point to the higher Incidence of cancer in the Three Mile Island region than in other locations in the US, however epidemiologists and researchers have shown that because of higher background radon levels there is a corresponding higher level of cancer Prevalence, or existing cases of cancer, in that area. The new cases of cancer are compared to an already high existing rate, or prevalence, of thyroid cancer in that region. They are no longer unique and their existence cannot be statistically linked in a causative manner to the accident itself. The new cases are statistically washed out, their importance diminished.

Now whether the accident resulted in an increased rate of cancer most likely will always be contested, especially by families who may have personally suffered following the release. But what is clear is that the meaning and importance of an incident is directly related to the prevalence of the same condition. This goes for the successes we often strive for. There may be a high incidence of excellence, but in a background environment of high excellence prevalence, those new incidences of success are not noteworthy, or rather above the norm.

We see this in classroom grade curves. A student scoring 90 percent on an exam (often considered excellent), may be subpar if the average is 95. But almost as important as understanding that, is understanding and exploiting the converse. A student scoring 70 may be considered excellent when the average is 60. Identifying when you are, or can, supercede the pool, no matter how mediocre, and thus creating an incident above the prevalence, is key to achieving success.

Song of the Day
So apparently this commercial has caused quite a stir on the web following its appearance on the Grammy's tonight.  Not having anything to do with the message of the commercial, i want to feature it because i love covers of newer songs by legends.  The song of the day is Coldplays' "The Scientist" performed by Willie Nelson.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

The Quotable Antidote

File under Useless Information

"They didn't invent whispering for compliments." - Comedian Brian Reagan

Song of the Day
Hands down, my favorite band in high school.  In honor of listening to cassette tapes on the way to school in the morning, the song of the day is The Mighty Lemon Drops' 'Inside Out'.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

The Lie

File under Meet Yourself

Song of the Day
I heard a Weezer song the other day and for some reason wanted to feature the band of their former bassist Matt Sharpe.  In honor of "leaving the party before things got good", the song of the day is The Rentals' "She Says it's Alright".  My favorite Rentals song.  That's right...I'm not a friend of P.

Monday, January 30, 2012

The Circular Reference

File under Understanding the Problem

In November of 2010, the American Psychological Association published their annual report titled Stress in America that paints a grim picture of stress in our lives. Their key overarching finding was:

‘As the U.S. economy continues to struggle for the third year, findings from the 2010 Stress in America survey paint a picture of an overstressed nation. Feeling the effects of prolonged financial and other recession-related difficulties, Americans are struggling to balance work and home life and make time to engage in healthy behaviors, with stress not only taking a toll on their personal physical health, but also affecting the emotional and physical well-being of their families.”

So what are we so stressed about anyway? Not surprisingly the report quantifies these 10 significant stressors in our lives: Money, Work, the Economy, Family responsibilities, Relationships, Personal Health Concerns, Housing costs, Job Stability, Family health problems, and Personal Safety.

We even tend to not understand how our stress affects others. 69% of parents said their stress had little to no impact on their children, yet 91% of kids responded being fully aware of their parents stress levels.

But where does this stress come from? Everywhere - television, marketing, guidance counselors, your Boss, the gym, little league, college admissions, talent shows, and on and on.

One of the major findings of the report was that “…lacking willpower was cited as a barrier to adopting healthy behaviors when lifestyle changes were recommended by a health care provider. Yet the majority believes willpower can be learned as well as improved, if they only had more energy and confidence.”

Talk about a circular reference! Basically that’s saying that you could achieve change if you could only increase your willpower. And you can increase your willpower if you only had more energy and confidence. And you can increase your energy and confidence if you could only change a particular aspect of your life. Ridiculous! It’s that logic that keeps us spinning our wheels in a constant battle against stress.

Song of the Day
So i think i'm late to the Gotye party, but this song is stuck in my head.  In honor of alternative-pop crossovers, the song of the day is Gotye's "Somebody That I Used To Know" featuring Kimbra.