Saturday, August 11, 2012

Time for some vacation

Dutch hocky teamWe’re in the summer slowdowns in the Netherlands.  The traffic is light, phone calls are increasingly yielding extended absence greetings: everyone is on their summer holidays.  The Olympics are winding down and the Dutch have 20 medals so far, including a gold for the women’s field hockey team.  ‘Fun to see (although, as a friend noted on my Facebook page, it’s hard to accessorize orange).

I’ve been catching up with posting late reviews to TripAdvisor, winding up some data analysis and budget planning, and looking longingly out the windows at the suddenly summer weather.

TexelIt’s getting to be time for a bit of vacation.

One of the good things about not having an office or employees (yet) is that I can work from anywhere that there is an internet connection.  So, a simple vacation could be a change of scenery.  There are spots by the Dutch seaside, perhaps Texel, that could be lovely this time of year, a few hours work in the morning; a few hours reading, walking, writing in the afternoon.

P1030367Still, work has a way of capturing the day, and a vacation really needs a a disconnect as well.  Fortunately, there’s an opportunity to do a bit of sailing that would get me out on the water and off the Internet for a few days.  If the late summer weather holds, it could be a really nice break: it’s been a couple of years since I last was seriously on the water.

So, I’m putting the last of the arrangements together, packing up the businesses to cope without me for a few days mid-month.  Looking back across recent blog entries I’ve been writing about a lot of serious ideas.  It’s a good sign that I should lighten my attitude with some fresh breezes and colorful sunsets.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

‘Not what things seem…

Not what they seemI’ve been surprised a few times this week by news items and events and that go against my assumptions.  So, today’s recounting that things that are not always what they seem.

Perhaps, they never are.

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TripAdvisor recently integrated their reviews with Facebook’s Timeline, sharing searches, reviews and bookings governed by user-controlled privacy settings.  For one of my friends, this was the result:

Tripadvisor

It points up the difficulties of managing the spread of information once Facebook becomes involved: it flows too many directions for anyone to be able to control it.

So, despite the supposed advantages of exchanging reviews, I’ve disabled it all.  Again.

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The US Chamber of Commerce represents small business interests: overseas, they are represented by American Chambers of Commerce, AmChams, in 102 countries.  The local Dutch chapter, along with other international business clubs, is linked at DutchNews.nl

CofCThe US parent has a strongly conservative bent, fulminating regularly over regulation, debt, green and healthcare proposals that they assert kill jobs and small businesses.

It turns out that this, and many other aspects of the modern corporatist and capitalist conservative movement, trace their intellectual origins back to 1971.  Lewis Powell, then a Virginia attorney (later a Supreme Court Justice) authored a memo for the Chamber of Commerce advising them on how to respond to antiwar protests that had spread to include anti-business themes.  Jane Mayer writes in The New Yorker:

The greatest threat to free enterprise, he warned, was not Communism or the New Left but, rather, “respectable elements of society”—intellectuals, journalists, and scientists. To defeat them, he wrote, business leaders needed to wage a long-term, unified campaign to change public opinion.

I’m not part of the tin-hat movement, but it all starts to make sense.

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mosleyA key to longer living is healthy eating  and regular exercise, mental activity and a positive outlook.  And, maybe, learning a foreign language.   A BBC  documentary this week focused on the root physiologic causes of premature aging: high cholesterol, high glucose, and high IGF-1.  To bring down levels, they recommended no particular diet, but instead, no diet at all.

Their report suggested that fasting is the shortest way to longer life.

A 3.5 dy fast dropped all three levels by about 50% in their demonstration, but the effects only lasted for a few days.  The process was so personally difficult that health reporter Michael Mosley admitted that he could not go through it again (I’ve done a couple of days, perhaps half his marathon).

A sustained 5:2 regimen worked better.  The rule was intermittent fasting: eat what you want for five days out of seven, and only a single 600 calorie meal on the other two days.  After six weeks, he’d lost a stone (14 lbs) and again lowered his circulating levels of LDH cholesterol, glucose, and IGf-1 by half.

It’s an interesting, if counterintuitive demonstration and a tempting practice to try.  I suspect that my schedule would accommodate (encourage) a two-days-off cycle each week -  no  indication of how to merge it with exercise and Dutch lessons, though.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

A little Tuesday tech

I wanted to touch on a few pieces of technology that I’ve been exploring recently: as always, if you have experiences or alternatives that you like, I’m interested in trying them out.

As always, these are my own opinions: nobody asked me or paid me.  And, yes, it’s Microsoft-centric, but so is my computing world.  Not because it’s better, but because it always has been.

skydrive-logoSkyDrive:  I have been slow in adopting cloud-based storage: I worry about the security and availability of things that I offload from my PC.  Still, I have a need for shared storage since I work on several computers and with dispersed colleagues.

I use USB hard drives for backups (syncing with Beyond Compare) and DropBox to exchange files at work.  But mail sync is harder, and I’ve been tempted by the way that Live Mail keeps files on the server, accessible from any machine. that I log in from.  This will be more important in Windows 8 and as I use mobile devices with limited memory more and more.

Windows uses SkyDrive as its cloud-based storage app, and I’ve started moving the rest of my local mail and document folders to it.  It works well: it mounts like any other hard drive, indexes into Libraries, and syncs across machines without slowing performance.  The initial synchronization is tricky, getting all the computers pointing to one version, but it seems fast enough that I don’t notice the change (even over Barrington dial-up speeds).  I’ll move music and pictures up as I gain confidence, keeping local backups on my USB drive.

outlookOutlook Mail:  Microsoft is clearing away Hotmail and Live Mail in preparation for Windows 8 this fall.  Having been burned when they killed Small Business last spring, cutting off web site and email, I took migration more seriously this time.

The new program is Outlook Mail, which went live last week.  I’m no fan of the bloated Outlook client in Office, but the web interface isn’t much different from GMail or Yahoo, and the configuration with PC-based clients was straightforward.  I used this guidance, which assures that I do the right migration and that I’m ready for mobile access.

One important task is to set up an outlook.com alias that includes your normal email address, then pointing it to your existing account.  That way you reserve a familiar name for yourself in the future when Microsoft cuts off the old services completely.

TechnetTechnet:  A lot of Microsoft’s core programs will update this fall, including Office, Windows, Visual Studio, and Web Servers.  I’m not sure I like the new interfaces and am not ready to spend time and money until the programs are familiar.

TechNet is a subscription service that provides access to current releases under one flat fee.  For a couple of hundred dollars you receive downloads and license keys for all the major software categories, less extensive than MSDN but still covering the major components that I use.

I’ve picked up Office 2010 and am able to experiment with the new versions of Office and Windows, as well as install full versions when they are released in October.  It seems like good value this year in particular,  and gets me past the hump of trying to decide on whether to shell out for individual programs.

Posterous-SpacesPosterous Spaces:  I understand what to do with Facebook, Blogger, and LinkedIn, but still struggle to find a purpose for Twitter, Pinterest, or Klout.  Somewhere between these lies Tumblr and, now, Posterous: Miniblogging sites that allow rich multimedia postings in public streams and pages.

I still haven’t found exactly the niche where these fit: they promote it for photo galleries (I use Flickr) and announcing blog posts (I use Twitter).  Still, since it’s been acquired by Twitter, it’s likely to be in my future somewhere, so I’ve established an account and am looking for the sweet spot.

OneNoteOneNote:  This is a  note-taking program that is part of Office, but I’d never paid for it / played with it until I was on TechNet.  It’s good: I like the way that I can sprawl quick ideas and outlines across a page, copy in multimedia from the web, and have it all auto-sync to the cloud.

I’ve been using it to take notes and capture content during meetings, and to brainstorm ideas and expand to-do lists as a sidebar to other work.  I wish there was a more associative-style MindMap mode, and an easier way to pan and zoom across extended content windows.

I think that this will really shine on tablet devices like Surface, and I can see where it has potential to replace my spiral notebook.  Until then, I still struggle to copy / sync content between screen and paper – I’m not quite ready to cut the cord.

VaioVaio:  My EeePC netbook finally gave up the ghost. It has been an absolutely rugged workhorse of a machine, stuffed into shoulder bags, logging miles, surviving falls, for over two years without once failing (despite a cracked hinge and with only one new battery).

I headed to Media Markt to find a replacement and was sad to find that Asus (ad most others) have abandoned the category.  There were no low-priced, full-featured 10” netbooks any more – it sees like they’ve all given way to tablets.

A tablet is great for content consumption, but I’m heavily tasked with content creation.  An iPad won’t work (I have doubts about Windows 8 for the same reason).  A salesman suggested a Sony Vaio SVE subnotebook, and it seemed to fit most of the qualities that I needed.  Performance is peppy, graphics are clean, there’s a full keyboard, and connectivity is there.

I’ve had problems with my Sony Z being fragile and having a flaky hinge: the new one is redesigned to be more rugged.  The touchpad is occasionally a problem and the case feels flimsy, but I’ve logged a month of use now and like it a lot.  No extended warranty was available, but I’ve told myself that if it lasts a year, then I’m happy for the discount introductory price I paid.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Misguided principles of governing

I rented a Hertz car this weekend with “NeverLost” a “sophisticated yet simple system to quickly route you to your destination”.  It was, by far, the most annoying accessory ever.he photo shows a typical display with my car off-roading – the actual view from my window was this one of Interstate 24 --->

NeverLost was always hopelessly lost (calibration, shrugged the Helpful Hertz person).  It further lacked any navigation options to find POIs or to set waypoints.  Advertisements appeared ahead of directions; it refused to allow me to enter instructions if the car was moving.  I suspect that it was secretly recording speed and location information for billing and promotions.

In short, it did everything that I would expect from a corporation intent on minimizing cost and maximizing profits.

I think it’s a metaphor allegory for the whole notion that we should run the country as though it were a business.

This goes beyond the simple notion that things cost less if done by the private sector. 

Experience shows that even that simple maxim is wrong.  Colorado Springs experimented with running the city as though it were a business. The results suggest that contracting services to private firms saves nothing: they must, after all, make a profit. The main benefits were psychic: Proponents don't care if privatizing actually saves the government money, so long as the government is doing less.

Rather, I’d challenge the idea that the best method for governing is to take a business perspective since free-market methods always yield optimal results. 

In part, this is based on observing the less than optimal results that businesses often achieve, as with Hertz’s EverLost.

Evan more, businesses embody processes that are far from fair, efficient, or optimal.  Some are simply corrupt: Barclays appears to have been undermined by it’s traders; StanChart by it’s lawyers.  Others are misguided: Omar Ishrak, Medtronic’s CEO, recently tweeted that we should let patients pick the research teams that create devices for their conditions.  Mny persist despite contrary evidence: Force ranking leads to employees focusing on competing with each other rather than competing with other companies.

But most of all, businesses are compete to profitably exploit market segments with limited product offerings, not to be the sole provider delivering broad services to the entire population.  Competitors lie within the system, elected representatives of the other party and special interest lobbyists, not as external providers in the same market niche.  Diplomacy is required rather than negotiation.  Human and environmental factors, long-term rather than quarterly considerations, have to be tallied that don’t reduce to balance-sheet calculations.

I’m not surprised that Mitt Romney is struggling to demonstrate, though his own words and policy proposals, that a business approach to governing is the best approach to governing.  Societies are sprawling, messy, diverse and contradictory.  Navigating by business principals alone  oversimplifies society and mischaracterizes opportunity:  It cannot find the best route towards a fair and just future.