Thursday, February 02, 2017

A few thoughts on saving civilization

A few inchoate thoughts triggered by reading Umair Haque's recent post "The Impossibility of the Good":

I find myself wondering why postwar liberal democracy, if it's really "humanity's single greatest achievement", suddenly seems so fragile? If, as Umair suggests, civilization depends on "civilising little beings into enlightened people", isn't that something the best-educated society in the history of the world should actually be pretty good at?

Francis Fukuyama famously invoked the "end of history" after the fall of the Berlin Wall, only for history to come roaring back just a few years later. In the 21st century, why has the tolerant and open society proven so susceptible to enemies from without and within? Certainly it is the latter who have done more real damage to the fabric of society, if only by feeding on the fears conjured up by the sinister work of the former. Is tolerance really unsustainable? How do those of us who embrace not just tolerance but xenophilia as a core value confront that sort of question? If our open, pluralistic, tolerant society really is as brittle as it currently seems, and is therefore pretty sure to fail before long, one way or another, how much energy is it really worth devoting to saving it? And if "we" the decent majority do succeed in beating back the current pack of monsters and starting to rebuild an open society, as I fervently hope we will, how can we make the next phase more robust?

If Umair is right that the bedrock of civilization is a foundation of shared values, I suppose a first step might be to concede the right's point about the corrosive power of moral relativism — while still, crucially, rejecting the tyrannical social power structures sustained by conservative religion and blind adherence to tradition. One of our fundamental values has to be the individual's right to question anything and everything — including the fundamental values themselves. How do we square that circle?

If I'm going to grapple with this stuff, maybe it's time to think about going back and studying philosophy. I already knew I need to read up on epistemology in order to think more clearly about the wave of "fake news" and other assorted weaponized bullshit engulfing the public conversation. Now it looks like I may need to add a course in ethics to the reading list.

Another direction to explore: in America, we the decent majority have at least temporarily been deprived of the federal government as a tool for organizing ourselves and shaping the world. The familiar postwar liberal narrative envisions democratic government as supported and sustained by institutions of a pluralistic "civil society". Why do those institutions now seem so inadequate to meeting the challenges of Trump, or Brexit, or the rise of populist movements in continental Europe? In America at least, I suspect part of the answer is that many of those institutions have been reduced to nothing more than fundraising machines rather than real vehicles for participatory engagement.

Friday, January 20, 2017

This is still America.

This is still the America that elected and re-elected her first black president. That gave the majority of its votes to the candidate who would have been her first woman president. The America that has always stood for freedom, equality, justice, and opportunity. The America of hope and inclusiveness, not hatred and fear.

This is still the America that put a man on the moon and brought him safely back to earth. The America that stands firmly by its allies and tenders the hand of reconciliation and friendship to its defeated enemies.

This is still the America whose moral arc may be long, but bends towards justice — because in critical times she has always found citizens ready to take that arc into their own hands and bend it themselves if necessary.

Any would-be leaders who try to steer us backwards, in a direction that leads away from freedom, equality, and justice into tyranny and chaos, will soon find themselves trampled underfoot.

We are the majority. We are the future. We will prevail.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Weblog 2017-01-18

Jacob T. Levy: "The Party Declines"

Another Niskanen Center blog post examines how the weakness of party structures enabled the rise of Trump, even as strong partisanship in the electorate made it unlikely that Republican voters would cross party lines once he was nominated.

In other words, while we can easily imagine smarter, earlier, and braver action by party elites that would have changed the outcome, suggesting that the party might not have been organizationally impotent, the party elites managed things so haplessly in part because they were organizationally weak and didn’t have tools they were confident in.

In the medium-to-long term, restoring a robust democracy in America will crucially require rebuilding a functioning, rational Republican party.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Weblog 2017-01-17

Jerry Taylor at the Niskanen Center blog argues "The Case for (or Against) Scott Pruitt"

Or at least, that's what it says in the headline and lede; he actually has very little to say about Pruitt himself. Instead, he blames Al Gore and Naomi Klein for spooking conservatives into denying climate change with talk of changing "the very foundation of our civilization" and ending capitalism. He continues by advocating a carbon tax as "the ideal policy response" and argues that a Republican-controlled government is perfectly placed to implement it. I can't help but wonder how he still has any faith in Republicans to do the rational thing.

Friday, January 13, 2017

Weblog 2017-01-13

New York Times interview with Peter Thiel

Thiel alternates between boasting of his own rationality and displaying the most blatant epistemic bias. Some of his responses are downright Trumpian, consisting of a series of insinuating questions capped with a coy "I don't know" — the only thing missing is "many people are saying...". Referring to Merrick Garland by his first name strikes an odd note too. Overall the interview is frustratingly superficial, with a whole series of provocative statements by Thiel left unexamined. Lack of corruption is "boring"? I guess that's one problem we won't have to worry about under the new administration.

Tiago Forte on "Bending the Curves of Productivity"

"But we lack a framework for how individual employees can use small batch sizes to their advantage. [...] We need to change our conception of what we are producing, from final deliverables to what I will call 'intermediate packets.'"

The idea reveals another angle on this "weblogging" experiment — if I write these entries with the intention of creating "intermediate packets", perhaps my web browsing can become part of a productive routine rather than mostly a waste of time and vehicle of procrastination. After all, the point of my online reading was always supposed to be to acquire useful knowledge and not just diversion.

A mini-project I've been working on this week is to distill a Global Market Analysis document I did for a prospect a while back into a template I can use to quickly generate similar documents for other potential clients. But the process has been tortuous, with tangents into studying the documentation on software that's only peripherally related — OmniOutliner, to be specific. The market analysis document is built in Apple's Pages, incorporating a few charts made in Excel, and I could probably reach the objective of creating the template without using OmniOutliner at all, or only using its most basic capabilities. But I also have a background objective of learning to use my key software tools more effectively, so I'm taking the time to dive into the manual even if it delays completion of the template project. Does the "importance" of learning OmniOutliner in-depth really outweigh the "urgency" of completing the market analysis template? (And since the main document is in Pages, should I be learning to do the charts in Numbers instead of Excel?) For that matter, it's quite possible that I'm putting way too much time into building sales tools like the Global Market Analyses I'll be building from the template instead of just getting out there and meeting with prospects. I'm not sure — but in Forte's conceptual framework I can think of "proficiency in OmniOutliner" as an "intermediate packet" with future application beyond the template project.

Forte writes:
So what is required to make this new approach a reality? It requires us to get much, much better at packaging our work mid-stream. Here’s what makes it difficult: we can’t afford to do this packaging during the project, because every spare moment is needed to race toward the deadline. And we can’t do it after the project ends, because by then we’re already off to the next one. No, this packaging has to be embedded into the actual way we work moment to moment, so that it doesn’t take any extra time whatsoever.
And he concludes with some thoughts on note-taking apps as "the next frontier of productivity" that relate nicely to the Zettelkasten approach that I hope to return to in future blog posts.

Umair Haque briefly notes why cutting health care is not just inhumane, but also precisely the wrong policy prescription for America today.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Weblog 2017-01-12

Among other things I'm hoping that "weblogging" will help me resist my bad habit of wasting half the day following endless Internet rabbit trails. But I'm also hoping it will help me capture and retain information from my casual reading that is valuable.

Added to my to-read list:

Niklas Goeke summarizes Simple Rules* on his reading blog Four Minute Books. "Simple Rules shows you how to navigate our incredibly complex world by learning the structure of and coming up with your own set of easy, clear-cut rules to follow for the most various situations in life."

*Yes, it's an affiliate link. Buy ten copies for each of your friends! Make me rich!

Seeing patterns

Pattern-finding (forming heuristics) and meta-pattern-finding is just what humans do. It works more often than not (otherwise it would never have evolved), but it fails often enough to get us in trouble. And then we form heuristics about heuristic failure. And so on, turtles all the way down....

Wednesday, January 04, 2017

New year's resolution: reconnect with civic life

Last night I listened in on the second weekly conference call of Indivisible Austin, an anti-Trump political group. Those who know me will hardly be surprised that I'm no fan of that blowhard from Celebrity Apprentice who thinks he and he alone can make America great again. The election result triggered a strong desire to re-engage with my community, and to become a more active citizen in the national community. I'm beginning to explore ways to do that.

There's part of me that still suspects that, despite the more disreputable members of Trump's entourage and his bull-in-a-china-shop style of communicating, some of the panic over the impending inauguration may be a bit overblown. What's objectionable about El Cheeto may yet turn out to be more a matter of style than substance. But I'm willing to risk a little embarrassment if the Trump administration turns out less bad than it seems, if it means that if worse comes to worst I can be part of mitigating the damage during the disaster and, hopefully, helping rebuild once it's over.

Much more on this in the days and weeks to come....

Monday, October 10, 2016

An experiment

The word "blog" is derived from "weblog". The original blogs, back when the Internet was still steam-powered, consisted simply of a stream of notes and comments about whatever the author happened to be reading on the web. As a way of rebooting my sadly atrophied writing habit, I'd like to experiment here with reviving that form. Whether I end up producing anything out of it that's actually worth reading is secondary. One thing I anticipate is that many of the pages/posts/articles I read simply won't be worth commenting on, even for the sake of this experiment. (I originally expected to have at least a couple of links in this first post, for example, but really, I didn't find anything this morning that was worth the trouble.) And if they're not worth sharing, how much of my time are they worth to read in the first place? I'm pretty sure I'll end up motivated to spend less time browsing. At the same time, though, there really is good stuff out there, and I'm nowhere near ready to give up my Internet jones cold-turkey. As so often, the challenge is to separate the wheat from the chaff, the signal from the noise. Given that I'm already starting from RSS feeds and Twitter streams that I've at some point opted to follow, I'm not really sure yet how to approach that.

So if I indeed don't produce anything that's itself worth reading here, am I contributing to the problem? Since I'm pretty sure I've never written with enough consistency (never mind talent or insight) to build anything like a "readership", that's not something I'm going to worry about for now.

Saturday, July 04, 2015

In business!


Stationery, postcard, presentation kit — I'm in business!

Saturday, December 06, 2014

Script Debugger developer shares thinking on $199 price tag

I've been writing AppleScript since before OS X was around, but I've never been able to bring myself to drop $199 on Script Debugger, the acknowledged gold standard of AppleScript code editors that enables users to "explore, edit, debug, and deploy" scripts. In his latest blog post, the developer Mark Alldritt shares his thinking on pricing for the application. Mark writes:

I see Script Debugger as a tool that makes professional developers money by saving them a lot of time. Those that really need Script Debugger know it and would pay much more because of this simple equation. In fact, if I had more courage I would raise the price even further.

It's highly unlikely that I'll ever be a "professional" AppleScript developer. It may be that I'll ultimately recover my investment of time in scripting by streamlining some of my business processes, but any net savings are extremely indirect and nearly impossible to measure. Clearly I'm not one of those who "really need" Script Debugger. I'm more of a hobbyist and enthusiast who might "want" it enough to pay $50 or so. Mark's strategy leaves stingy old penny-pinchers like me out in the cold.

Of course, a couple hundred bucks really isn't that much in the grand scheme of things. Perhaps someday I'll draw a lucky Community Chest card and decide to splurge. Until then, I suppose I'll just keep gazing enviously over at my "pro" scripting brethren.


Sunday, December 08, 2013

Working on the Swift Passage Trading Master Action Plan (MAP)

The Master Action Plan (MAP) — the process of bringing Swift Passage Trading to life — has been formulated in rough draft, and the project has moved from a "Formulation" to a "Concentration" operating state. I'll continue to refine the MAP as I go on, but the focus now is on execution. My commitment is to make progress on the MAP every working day. This is my "job" now, even though I'm not yet making a living at it.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

August Bootstrap B2B: Beyond Cost-Plus: Pricing Your Products on Markets Old & New

This month's B2B Subgroup meeting will be led by Christopher Hastings.

Other than adding up their own costs and adding a % margin on top of that, most businesses have little knowledge of how to price their products. We are going to look at a few of the best tricks and tips for developing your pricing model for your business. Whether you are trying to build a SAS subscription model or running a retail store and fighting prices on commodities, we'll identify some of the key considerations to know when pricing your products.

Our presenter Christopher Hastings has studied at both the Acton School of Business and the London School of Economics, building expertise in both entrepreneurship and international development. He is the founder of two startups, one focused on providing CPAs with the tools they need to counsel entrepreneurs (including on topics of pricing) and the other focused on location analysis for economic development. Despite having written textbook chapters on entrepreneurship and run budgets of 150MM+ supply chain projects, he is never happier than when working one on one with entrepreneurs to improve their businesses.

LinkedIn: http://www.linkedin.com/in/cjhastings
Twitter: @HastingsCJ

Date: August 23, 7:00 p.m.

Location:
Business Success Center
Chase Bank Tower
7600 Burnet Rd.
Austin, TX 78757
933-1983

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

July Bootstrap B2B: "Smarketing"

Fernando Labastida will lead this month's Bootstrap B2B meeting.

Topic: "Smarketing: How to market an international company in the US on a shoestring"

When: Monday, July 26, 2010 7:00 PM

Where: Business Success Center
Chase Bank Tower 7600 Burnet Rd.
Austin, TX 78757
933-1983

By use of white papers, case studies, press releases, blogging and social media, small international companies can implement the "Smarketing" methodology to enter the U.S. market: a hybrid of sales and marketing, in order to penetrate the fortresses corporate decision-makers set up to protect themselves from sales people, create buzz, and generate sales.

Fernando Labastida specializes in providing content marketing services for Latin American software companies wanting to penetrate the U.S. market. He's been a sales and marketing professional for the last 20 years, having worked for several Austin start-ups, including Powered, Vignette and Sunset Direct.

http://latinitmarketing.com/como-entrar-mercado-estados-unidos
Twitter: @flabastida

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Valerie's first drive

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Prickly Pear

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Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Notes from Prague

Found a notebook with some notes from my visit to Prague a couple of years ago that I'm not sure I ever transcribed anywhere. I don't know if this really has any value, but I don't feel like just throwing it away...

So far most of the old hangouts in Prague that I've gone back to have been disappointing. Radost at noon on a Sunday would have had a line out the door in the old days. Zvonařka is overpriced and has no personality. Domažlická Jizba was good, albeit on the expensive side. Austria seems to have gone upscale, as has U Vejvodů — I haven't actually eaten at either one yet. The Budweis place down from my old office is long-gone. Demínka was OK.