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PHOTON COURIER
 
Saturday, January 30, 2010  
JUST BECAUSE I LIKE IT

Some lines that seem appropriate for a cold and snowy day...

'Twas the soul of Judas Iscariot,
Strange, and sad, and tall,
Stood all alone at dead of night
Before a lighted hall.

And the wold was white with snow,
And his foot-marks black and damp,
And the ghost of the silvern Moon arose,
Holding her yellow lamp.

And the icicles were on the eaves,
And the walls were deep with white,
And the shadows of the guests within
Pass'd on the window light.

The shadows of the wedding guests
Did strangely come and go,
And the body of Judas Iscariot
Lay stretch'd along the snow.

The body of Judas Iscariot
Lay stretched along the snow;
'Twas the soul of Judas Iscariot
Ran swiftly to and fro.

To and fro, and up and down,
He ran so swiftly there,
As round and round the frozen Pole
Glideth the lean white bear.

'Twas the Bridegroom sat at the table-head,
And the lights burnt bright and clear
'Oh, who is that,' the Bridegroom said,
'Whose weary feet I hear?'


The complete poem is here.

Not being a Victorian, some of the words are unfamiliar, and not being a Christian, I'm not sure I understand all the symbolism...but what a vivid, beautiful, powerful poem.

cross-posted at Chicago Boyz


12:33 PM

 
COOL STARTUP STORY

Financial Times (1/27) has a story about a woman (an aspiring playwright working as a script reader) who had an idea for an earring organizer and built it into a $50 million business. (Earring organizer?? How many pairs of earrings does any one woman need, anyhow?)

Here are some of the things that Lori Greiner did right:

--Had a prototype made and showed it to prospective customers to get their reactions

--Focused on product quality. Although she uses a contract manufacturer, she has spent a lot of time in the factory. ("I can remember standing on the second floor of the factory in the middle of July--when it was about 110 degrees Farenheit inside--making sure my earring stands slid properly along their tracks, day after day, 10 to 12 hours a day.")

--Validated product quality from an end-customer point of view. ("Once the product arrives on the market, Ms Greiner makes it a point to buy it from the store or order it off of the Internet.")

--Made a major selling effort...days of phone calls to introduce her product to jewelry buyers, followed by a 28-day 21-city tour for face-to-face meetings. The intial orders were small, but follow-on orders were larger. She also arranged an appearance on Home Shopping Network.

--Expanded the product line, which now includes over 250 items. (Expansion beyond a single product was initially suggested by a buyer)

Greiner's company now employs about 20 people; given that she uses contract manufacturing, though, that number surely understates the employment impact of the enterprise: I'd be surprised if there aren't another 20-50 people involved throughout the supply chain.

People often tend to conflate "startup" with "technology" (and usually with a very narrow definition of "technology, at that), but there are plenty of startup opportunities in other areas.

Our fate, dear Brutus, is not in our SIC codes, but in ourselves.

(SIC code = Standard Industrial Classification code)

Greiner's website is here.

Previous cool startup stories


11:48 AM

Friday, January 29, 2010  
THE PAST OF THE FUTURE

In the mid-1940s, Seagrams ran a series of ads speculating about what the future would be like. (Why was a whiskey-maker running ads about the future?...because their ad campaign theme for Seagram's VO Canadian whiskey, which was aged for six years, was "Men who plan beyond tomorrow.") Fairly interesting.

(via Gongol)


5:45 AM

Thursday, January 28, 2010  
THE REAL STATE OF THE UNION

Fear

As Michael Ledeen observes: This fear is extremely broad-based. It is not limited to social class nor to domestic or foreign policies. Banks are not lending, companies are not hiring, because they are afraid of what Obama will do next.

It is very clear that Obama/Pelosi/Reid view America primarily as a playing field for a neo-Hobbesian struggle of group against group. And the winning and losing groups at any given moment are determined not only by the elements of the "progressive" creed, but also by the social prejudices of the the leading promulgators of that creed...and by the political exigencies of any given moment.

continued at Chicago Boyz


8:03 AM

Wednesday, January 27, 2010  
THE APPLE TABLET

Discussion and a few links at Chicago Boyz.


8:20 AM

Sunday, January 24, 2010  
THEORY vs EXPERIENCE, CONTINUED

I've written several posts that deal with the relative roles of theoretical knowledge versus experience-based knowledge in business and other spheres of life (here, for instance), and we've had some good Chicago Boyz discussions on the topic.

Yesterday the Assistant Village Idiot posted an email from a friend (an executive now living in China) which deals with this issue in a very insightful manner. Recommended reading; discuss there or at Chicago Boyz, where this is cross-posted.


8:28 AM

Saturday, January 23, 2010  
LOST IN TRANSLATION

A comment thread at Celia Farber's blog reminded me of a passage I thought I remembered from Jean Anouilh's version of Antigone:

The machine has been wound up since the beginning of time, and it runs without friction

(The "machine" Anouilh is talking about here is tragedy, in the Greek sense)

Googling, I came up with two very different translations from the original French:

This version:

You just sit back and watch it go. It's a well-oiled machine in perfect order. It's been up and running since the beginning of time.

...is pretty different from what I remembered, while this version:

You don't need to lift a finger. The machine is in perfect order; it has been oiled ever since time began, and it runs without friction.

...is pretty close though not identical.

I don't read French and I'm not sure which version is the more accurate translation...I think I prefer the second, in terms of spoken English...but they are remarkably different, aren't they?

In the introduction to his translation of Goethe's Faust, Walter Kaufman makes some interesting remarks about the problems of translation.r As an example, he takes the story of Joesph in the Bible. In the King James version, the father's reaction after Joseph's coat is found covered in blood is rendered as:

And he knew it, and said, It is my son's coat; an evil beast hath devoured him; Joseph is without doubt rent in pieces.

...whereas according to Kaufman, a more accurate translation from the original Hebrew would be more like this:

He knew it and said: my son's coat! an evil beast devoured him! torn--torn is Joseph!

Clearly, the emotional temperature of the two translations is quite different.

About the King James version as a whole, Kaufman says that

The King James Bible is not only an imposing work of English lierature but also, on the whole, amazingly accurate. Even so, its style, mood, and atmosphere are often antithetical to the original. The austerity and laconic simplicity of the Hebrew gives way to a richly ornamental medium, and agonized outcries are refurbished "to be read in churches."

Related: Some of Heine's poems, in translation.


7:47 AM

Friday, January 22, 2010  
WORTHWHILE READING & VIEWING

Hussman on inflation. Dr Hussman's weekly analyses should be read by every serious investor.

State of the American kid. A nationwide survey of kids ages 9-13. (via Joanne Jacobs)

Arlen Specter proves that he is a jackass. The extreme arrogance so often seen in long-serving Senators and Representatives makes a very good argument for term limits. (via Common Sense & Wonder)

A medical-device factory in Ohio is threatened by the proposed tax on such products which is included in the "health care reform" bill. The factory's owner says the tax would cost his company $15 million a year, which is as much as he spends on research and development. The company has 1300 employees in Lorain County, Ohio, and was a local success story.

Speaking of health care, here's a hospital in Ottawa where the waiting time for an MRI is 150 days. And that's an improvement: the wait time was 360 days before the addition of an additional (very expensive) machine. Mark Graban analyzes how this situation might be remedied, drawing on his own experience in a children's hospital where he coached a radiology team that was able to reduce the wait time from 14 weeks to 2 weeks--without adding equipment.

General Electric announced ADELE, a project to develop & commercialize technologies for large-scale energy storage using compressed air. (This is a joint project with the European utility RWE and various other players.) Nice animation at the link describes how it works.

The entrepreneurial personality versus the bureaucratic personality. A bit oversimplified, perhaps, but worth reading. (via Isegoria)


8:51 AM

Tuesday, January 19, 2010  
CRISIS LOGISTICS

Macro View: Here's a Washington Post article on some of the logistical challenges involved in bringing aid to Haiti.

Micro View: This commenter at a Neptunus Lex thread--evidently a guy in the air freight business--describes some of the issues he is facing in his effort to dispatch relief flights with 180,000 pounds of MREs and bottled water.

The military thinker Clausewitz wrote, famously, about the importance of what he called friction in warfare:

Everything in war is very simple, but the simplest thing is difficult.

Clausewitzian friction applies to large-scale disaster relief, too.

7:41 PM

 
AND NO HELP CAME

The mass and majesty of this world, all
That carries weight and always weighs the same
Was in the hands of others; they were small
And could not hope for help and no help came


--W H Auden

A report from Iran

A report from Somalia


7:44 AM

Monday, January 18, 2010  
OF WRITING AND WORK

Bob O'Hara kindly e-mailed me a link to this interesting post at Anecdotal Evidence. The blogger observes that:

As a newspaper reporter I learned that two subjects might open the mouths and memories of recalcitrant interviewees – their families and work. People love talking about what they do – bragging and complaining -- especially when they’re good at it and enjoy the work. Work is central to most of our lives.

...and wonders why there is such an "absence of work" in contemporary literature. He cites two theories: Alain de Botton's view that "technology has alienated most of us, including writers and other artists, from the means of production," and Frank Wilson's assertion that "What this really is about is the extent to which art has become divorced from life as it actually lived by most people."

continued at Chicago Boyz


10:55 AM

Sunday, January 17, 2010  
WORTHWHILE READING

Georgian London, which was named Best Individual Blog and Best New Blog of 2009 by the history blog Cliopatria. (via Erin O'Connor)

Real Capitalism vs Crony Capitalism

The Advice Goddess notes that the poorly-thought-out piece of legislation known as the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act continues to do great harm to a wide range of small businesses. (It is also creating serious problems for libraries and homecrafters.) The irresponsible way in which Congress has dealt with this issue does not bode well for the future of our economy.

Which ties in nicely with the next link:What factors lead to national artheroschlerosis?

Cassandra writes about love, music, memory, and more.

Freight trains, passenger trains, and intellectual/political triumphalism.


2:59 PM

 
SAD AND DISTURBING...BUT NOT SURPRISING

Here is a sociology exam given at a college in the eastern U.S., together with answers that resulted in a grade of 100%

In my view, this is not education at all--in sociology or in any other subject--but rather pure political indoctrination...Erin's title for her post, "call and response," is very apt in describing this document and the kind of "education" that it represents.

Much more discussion at Erin's more recent post on this.


7:53 AM

Friday, January 15, 2010  
WORTH PONDERING

Deep in the forest there is an unexpected clearing which can be reached only by someone who has lost his way

--Tomas Tranströmer (via Celia Farber)

Previous Worth Pondering


8:19 PM

Thursday, January 14, 2010  
BOOK REVIEW: DEFYING HITLER
By Sebastian Haffner
Part II of review


This is a two-post book review; the first part is here and ended with Haffner's initial reaction to the naming of Hitler as Chancellor:

I do not know what the general reaction was. For about a minute, mine was completely correct: icy horror...for a moment I physically sensed the man's odour of blood and filth, the nauseating approach of a man-eating animal--its foul, sharp claws in my face.

But that evening, after discussing the situation with his father, he felt better about the future. Hitler, after all, had not been elected dictator: he was merely head of a coalition government and indeed had sworn an oath to the Weimar constitution.

We agreed that (the new government) had a good chance of doing a lot of damage, but not of surviving for very long: a deeply reactionary government, with Hitler as its mouthpiece...Even with the Nazis it would not have a majority in the Reichstag...Foreign policy would probably be a matter of banging the table. There might be an attempt to rearm. That would automatically add the outside world to the 60 percent of the home population who were against the Government...No, all things considered, this government was not a cause for alarm.

continued at Chicago Boyz


4:36 PM

Wednesday, January 13, 2010  
KIND OF SPOOKY

CNN:

James Cameron’s completely immersive spectacle “Avatar” may have been a little too real for some fans who say they have experienced depression and suicidal thoughts after seeing the film because they long to enjoy the beauty of the alien world Pandora.

According to the article, there have been more than 1000 posts to a forum for people trying to cope from the depression they experienced after seeing this film..and not being able to stay within it permanantly.

(Via Neptunus Lex, who says: "Some folks don't get the point. You have to come home when it's over.)

When I saw this story, I immediately thought of the old Chinese opium dens...which were largely inhabited by people whose lives were so miserable that their desire to disappear in dreams was entirely understandable.

But what misery or bleakness are the would-be permanant habitués of the Avatar den seeking to escape?

cross-posted at Chicago Boyz

UPDATE: Extensive and interesting discussion at the Chicago Boyz link.


5:58 AM

Tuesday, January 12, 2010  
NICELY DONE PUTDOWN

Wonderfully snarky Financial Times writer Lucy Kellawy, responding to a comment by a consultant:

CONSULTANT: "I think 2010 will to some extent be a continuation of 2009."

LUCY K: "If what he meant was that in 2010 consultants would continue passing off drivel as wisdom, he had already proved himself right."

Not quite superb enough for my Great Insults of All Time series (first entry here--more coming), but pretty good.


7:07 AM

Monday, January 11, 2010  
BOOK REVIEW: DEFYING HITLER
By Sebastian Haffner

How does an advanced and civilized nation turn into a pack of hunting hounds directed against humans? Sebastian Haffner addresses the question in this memoir, which describes his own experiences and observations from early childhood until his departure from Germany in 1939. It is an important document--not only for the light it sheds on this particular and dreadful era in history, but also for its more general analysis of the factors leading to totalitarianism and of life under a totalitarian state. It is also a very personal and human book, with vivid portraits of Haffner's parents, his friends, and the women he loved. Because of its importance and the fact that it is relatively little-read in the United States (Amazon ranking 108654--I picked up my copy at the Gatwick airport), I'm reviewing it here at considerable length.

The title (probably not chosen by the author himself) is perhaps unfortunate. Haffner was not a member of an organization dedicated to overthrowing the Nazi state, along the lines of a Hans Oster or a Sophie Scholl. His defiance, rather, was on a personal level--keeping his mind free of Nazi ideology, avoiding participation in Nazi crimes, and helping victims of the regime where possible. Even this level of defiance required considerable courage--more than most people are capable of. As Haffner summarizes life under a totalitarian regime:

With fearful menace the state demands that the individual give up his friends, abandon his lovers, renounce his beliefs and assume new, prescribed ones. He must use a new form of greeting, eat and drink in ways he does not fancy, employ his leisure in occupations he abhors, make himself available for activities he despises, and deny his past and his individuality. For all this, he must constantly express extreme enthusiasm and gratitude.

continued at Chicago Boyz


9:02 AM

 
EXTREMELY COOL

Here's an interactive map that displays geographical patterns for the 50 most popular movies chosen by Netflix customers. From the New York Times, of all places.

cross-posted at Chicago Boyz


8:23 AM

Saturday, January 09, 2010  
WORTHWHILE READING & VIEWING

John Mauldin on the economy...not a very cheerful piece. Mauldin also offers some excerpts from James Montier's book Behavioral Investing:

Time and time again, psychologists have found that confidence and biased assimilation perform a strange tango. It appears the more sure people were that they have the correct view, the more they distorted new evidence to suit their existing preference, which in turns made them even more confident!

Robert Avrech has some photos, along with a story about how they were taken. There's a reason why Robert is a successful screenwriter.

Does sex really sell at the box office?

It takes some real courage to launch a manufacturing operation in Michigan these days. Dave and Scott Wilbur did it. (more here)

Silly signs and funny photographs from Anoukange. Also see her great pictures of DC in winter.


8:28 PM

 
A MEMORIAL IN AFGHANISTAN

...erected by the 1-17th Infantry Battalion (5th Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division) in honor of the 21 soldiers killed during the first months of a year-long tour of duty. Story and incredible photographs by Michael Yon.


12:54 PM

Wednesday, January 06, 2010  
LIBERALS AND CONSERVATIVES

(I've been mulling the following essay for a while now--was finally inspired to action by a post from Cassandra, asking readers to "define conservatism for me."

Two stories....

During the Cold War, an American officer was watching a British artillery battery doing some practice firing. He noticed that every time the battery fired, two soldiers were detailed to stand about 50 feet away, each man with his right arm up in the air.

"What are they doing?" asked the American.

"Standard orders, sir," responded a sergeant. "What we were taught."

Unable to imagine any reason for this procedure, the American began to make inquiries. Everyone he talks to simply responded that this was they way they had been taught to do things. Finally, he interviewed a very old soldier, who had served in World War One and was now in a veterans hospital.

"You know, when the battery fires?" asked the American. "Those two guys off to the side with their arms in the air? What are they doing?"

"They're holding the horses," gasped the old soldier.

This is how liberals tend to think about conservatives--doing things they way they've always been done, for no good reason other than precedent.

A different story...

continued at Chicago Boyz


7:44 AM

Tuesday, January 05, 2010  
"PROTOCOLS" AND WEALTH CREATION

Here's David Brooks, writing in The New York Times:

In the 19th and 20th centuries we made stuff: corn and steel and trucks. Now, we make protocols: sets of instructions. A software program is a protocol for organizing information. A new drug is a protocol for organizing chemicals. Wal-Mart produces protocols for moving and marketing consumer goods. Even when you are buying a car, you are mostly paying for the knowledge embedded in its design, not the metal and glass. (via Isegoria)

Read the whole thing. The argument that Brooks is making here is very similar to the argument made by Rich Karlgaard of Forbes, which I critiqued in my post myths of the knowledge society.

In summary: The 19th and 20th centuries were also "knowledge economies" (in Karlgaard's formulation) or "protocol economies" (in the Brooksian terminology). The value of a Boulton & Watt steam engine was not in the "stuff" it was made out of (which could be purchased for a far lower amount than you would pay for the steam engine itself) but rather for the design knowledge contributed by James Watt and the manufacturing process knowledge (protocol knowledge) contributed by Matthew Boulton..and for innumerable additions to that knowledge base by their employees. To take a more recent example, the early 20th century assembly line as implemented by Henry Ford, and the kinds of precise work planning and industrial engineering developed by Taylor and the Gilbreths, certainly represent "protocols" just as much as do Wal-Mart's supply-chain management procedures.

continued at Chicago Boyz


7:36 AM

Sunday, January 03, 2010  
WORTHWHILE READING & VIEWING

Psychological factors that can lead to bias in scientific research; commentary here. (via Alpheus, who remarks that "the great secret to being right is a willingness to be wrong.")

San Francisco: What Happened? See also this video of SF in 1940.

The smart-people crowd.

Boo-hoo studies

It's not all boo-hoo studies: Great Books at Yale.

The Curious Cat has some interesting data on global manufacturing. (Try refreshing the page if the graphs don't show up)

How might the real job description of, say, a janitor in a hospital differ from the written one? See respect for people, underutilized people, and waste.

Some nice photographs of DC in winter.


8:25 AM

Saturday, January 02, 2010  
SOME REFLECTIONS ON TIME

Writing in the Financial Times (1/2), Christopher Caldwell offers some interesting comparisons...

*The Beatles' release of 'Love Me Do' in 1962 is now closer to the first world war than it is to us.

*Bill Haley's 'Rock Around the Clock' (1954) is as close to the Spanish-American war (1898) as it is to us.

*The first car that Karl Benz manufactured (1885) is as close to the reign of George II (1727-1760) as it is to us.

*The Communist Manifesto (1849) is closer to the English/Scottish Stuart monarchy (which ended in the Glorious Revolution of 1688) than to us.

Caldwell also asks:

How modern, for that matter, is modernism? If we take Virginia Woolf's word that modernism began when, "on or about December 1910, human character changed," then the early modernist works of that time are closer to Jane Austen's novels (1811-17) than they are to those of the conformists who call themselves modernists today.

(I believe the event of December 1910 which Woolf used as a milestone for change in human character was an exhibition of post-Impressionist art...the complete passage is here.)

Update: Left out one interesting comparison...

*Benjamin Franklin's birth (1706) is nearly as close to Dante's and Chaucer's 14th century as it is to the present


5:33 PM

 
PAYING HIGHER TAXES CAN BE VERY PROFITABLE

Chevy Chase, MD, is an affluent suburb of Washington DC. Median household income is over $200K, and a significant percentage of households have incomes that are much, much higher. Stores located in Chevy Chase include Tiffany & Co, Ralph Lauren, Christian Dior, Versace, Jimmy Choo, Nieman Marcus, Saks Fifth Avenue, and Saks-Jandel.

PowerLine observes that during the election season, yards in Chevy Chase were thick with Obama signs--and wonders how these people are now feeling about the prospect of sharp tax increases for people in their income brackets.

The PowerLine guys are very astute, but I think they're missing a key point on this one. There are substantial groups of people who stand to benefit financially from the policies of the Obama/Pelosi/Reid triumvirate, and these benefits can greatly outweigh the costs of any additional taxes that these policies require them to pay. Many of the residents of Chevy Chase--a very high percentage of whom get their income directly or indirectly from government activities--fall into this category.

Consider, for starters, direct employment by the government. Most Americans still probably think of government work as low-paid, but this is much less true than it used to be. According to this, 19% of civil servants now make $100K or more. A significant number of federal employees are now making more than $170,000. And, of course, the more the role of government is expanded, the more such jobs will be created, and the better will be the prospects for further pay increases.

continued at Chicago Boyz


3:31 PM

 
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