Print Story The City and the Stars
By TheophileEscargot (Sat May 23, 2009 at 03:56:15 AM EST) Reading, Watching, Me, Web, Listening (all tags)
Reading: "The City and the City". Watching: "Star Trek", "State of Play". Listening: "Art of Critical Decision Making". Web.

What I'm Reading
The City and the City by China Mieville. Mieville tries his hand at a detective story.

Has a neat concept: divided twin cities, with blocks and building intermingled, but whose inhabitants have to pretend the other city doesn't exist. Interacting with the other city risks punishment by the sinister forces of Breach.

However, the plot is a bit lacking. Things are resolved, but not particularly well, and there are no great revelations or surprises.

Overall, fairly interesting but not that special.

What I'm Watching
Saw thriller State of Play at the cinema. Started off pretty well but began to drag a bit: putting exciting music over boring scenes can only work for so long. Other minuses: chock full of heroic-journalist clichés; and an irritatingly performance from Rachel McAdams, gurning wildly as she Struggles With Her Conscience.

Pluses: a fair few twists and turns, and a nice newspaper-printing sequence at the end.

Overall: rent the DVD if you want something to watch.

What I'm Watching 2
Finally went to see Star Trek at the cinema. Pretty good, lots of action and plenty of pace. Plot relies heavily on coincidence.

Interesting the way they used a change to the timeline to make the characters more acceptable to contemporary moviegoers. They obviously felt the old Kirk was far too much of a boring conformist: fancy spending years working your way up through an organizational hierarchy when you can just get to be captain of Starfleet's flagship straight out of college by performing a single heroic mission.

What I'm Listening To
Made a brief foray into MBA territory with my latest TTC course: Art of Critical Decision Making by Michael A. Roberto. Not a total waste of time: has a lot of case studies including space shuttle and mountain-climbing disasters, the Bay of Pigs, the Cuban missile crisis; not just business decisions.

Course is divided into three sections: individual, team and organizational decisions. Presents quite a few examples of success and failures, and describes different techniques to fix certain types of failure.

Overall though, it's a question of balance. Too much conflict in an organization and nothing gets done; too little and it sinks into cosy groupthink. Allow too little innovation and you can't adapt to changes; but too much and the various units can end up at cross-purposes.

One thing I thought was interesting is that he blames the bureaucratic organization of NASA for the shuttle disasters; whereas I had the impression that the basic design of the shuttle was fundamentally dangerous. Would like his view to be true, but I suspect NASA culture evolved that way because if you took a truly safe approach, the shuttles would never launch.

Also, while there are a couple of lectures devoted to office politics, overall I get an impression of a wonderful fantasy world where everyone in an organization always works for the organization's good. Whereas real-world organizations seem to me to be buildings full of people working primarily for their own ends and those of their immediate clique. While Roberto gives plenty of theories about cognitive biases, poor processes and flawed organizations; it seems to me that remarkably often seem to have the same effects as simple selfishness.

Overall, interesting in places; worth a look if you want to keep up with management practices and arm yourself with some examples and jargon.

For instance, might be useful to cite Karl Weick and Katherine Sutcliffe on "High Reliability Organizations" next time I get accused of being negative by considering ways a project might fail. From the course notes:

II. Karl Weick and Kathleen Sutcliffe have coined the term "mindfulness" to describe the 5 characteristics of most HROs.

A. First, HROs appear to be preoccupied with failure of all sizes and shapes.
1. They do not dismiss small deviations or settle on narrow, localized explanations of these problems.
2. Instead, they treat each small failure as a potential indication of a much larger problem.
3. David Breashears has described how great climbers are obsessed with thinking about ways that they might fail on a mountain.
4. Similarly, Toyota has a culture that embraces and seeks out small failures constantly, looking then for how these failures might indicate large systemic problems.

B. Second, HROs exhibit a reluctance to simplify interpretations.
1. We all try to simplify the messy world around us.
2. HROs recognize that sometimes we oversimplify.
3. They look for odd things that don’t seem to fit their picture of how things usually work.
4. They build diverse teams and welcome a wide variety of perspectives that challenge the conventional wisdom.

C. HROs demonstrate sensitivity to operations.
1. They do not allow the emphasis on the big picture--strategic plans, vision statements, and so on--to minimize the importance of frontline operations, where the real work gets done.
2. They truly empower frontline workers, as Toyota does with its Andon cord system and hospitals do with their rapid response team process.

D . Fourth, HROs exhibit a commitment to resilience.
1. They recognize that no hazardous and complex system will be error free.
2. They recognize that mistakes happen, and that they are not typically because of negligence or malfeasance.
3. Often, mistakes suggest systemic problems.

E. Finally, HROs ensure that expertise is tapped into at all levels of the organization.
1. They work hard to flatten the hierarchy.
2. Their leaders stay in touch with, and gather input from, people at all levels.
3. Their leaders are cognizant of the fact that key information, particularly bad news, often gets filtered out as it rises up a hierarchy.

Went to see the parents for a few days for my Dad's 70th birthday. He's getting a bit frail with all his health problems. Went to a concert at the Bridgewater hall: some Beethoven and a Brahms symphony.

Socioeconomics. US unemployment to exceed Europe's? (Via). Women unhappier?

Pics. Rubbish (MeFi). Graf Zeppelin over Washington DC. Goose in mid-whiffle.

Cat cruelty corner. Whack-a-kitty. Cat yodelling. Catgate.

Random. Tweeting Too Hard. Chicago Gang Cards. Muscle March game trailer. Kerouac's fantasy sport. Theodore Roosevelt motivational posters.

ER profiler, Votematch European election vote-deciders.

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The City and the Stars | 11 comments (11 topical, 0 hidden) | Trackback
Tweeting Too Hard by ammoniacal (4.00 / 1) #1 Sat May 23, 2009 at 09:29:39 AM EST
So many cocks, not enough punches . . .

"To this day that was the most bullshit caesar salad I have every experienced..." - triggerfinger

Contemporary audiences by ucblockhead (4.00 / 1) #2 Sat May 23, 2009 at 11:24:31 AM EST
Just yesterday I was chatting with a coworker about movies and he brought up someone who had listed the summer movies of 1984.

Looking through those lists, I really can't help but think that movies really *were* better back then. At least, action movies were.
[ucblockhead is] useless and subhuman

I think good action movies by TheophileEscargot (4.00 / 1) #3 Sat May 23, 2009 at 11:58:22 AM EST
Are thinner on the ground now. Too many sequels and franchises: they're often fun to watch but they're not really going to stick in the memory.

"Watchmen" was great though, and "Outlander" was good fun.
It is unlikely that the good of a snail should reside in its shell: so is it likely that the good of a man should?

[ Parent ]
I dunno by lm (4.00 / 1) #4 Sat May 23, 2009 at 02:43:21 PM EST
Last summer was Dark Knight, Wall-E, Hellboy II, Indy  and the Crystal Skull. I think all of those compare pretty favorably to that list you linked to. Crystal Skull certainly wasn't my favorite movie in the world, but its certainly better than Temple of Doom.

I think part of what is happening is that 15 years later, it's easier to remember the good movies from that summer rather than all the stinkers.

There is no more degenerate kind of state than that in which the richest are supposed to be the best.
Cicero, The Republic
[ Parent ]
Really? by ucblockhead (4.00 / 1) #5 Sat May 23, 2009 at 02:57:58 PM EST
Yeah, Temple of Doom wasn't great, but what about TerminatorGhost BustersSpinal TapBeverly Hills copGremlinsBuckaroo BanzaiRepo ManNightmare on Elm Street  The Karate Kid?

I actually didn't remember that as a good summer.  I looked at the list recently and was stunned how many movies from that one summer I still remember now, 25 years later.

Compare that year with, say, 2003, which I'm hard pressed to find five movies I remember with any affection now.
[ucblockhead is] useless and subhuman

[ Parent ]
2003 was one year and five years ago by lm (4.00 / 1) #6 Sat May 23, 2009 at 03:14:32 PM EST
And, at least last summer, I think there's at least a one to one relationship for each of the great movies from summer of 1984.

Of the movies you mention, only Gremlins, Ghost Busters, Buckaroo Banzai and Karate Kid were releasaed in summer 1984. Spinal Tap, Beverly Hills Cop, Terminator, Nightmare on Elm Street, and Repo Man were all either released by March of 1984 or between November 1984 and the end of the year. And even then, I don't think all that many of them would stand up to a re-watching. Some would. But certainly not all of them.

There is no more degenerate kind of state than that in which the richest are supposed to be the best.
Cicero, The Republic
[ Parent ]
Wow by Scrymarch (4.00 / 1) #8 Sun May 24, 2009 at 07:55:46 AM EST
I feel like I'm on the other side of a micro-generation gap or something. 80s Hollywood action movies shit me to tears - The Terminator is great and maybe Indiana Jones from that year. The slow fight scene style I just find tedious.

I guess I'm not really an action afficionado, but to me once the Matrix introduced HK speed into Hollywood I found things much more watchable.

The Political Science Department of the University of Woolloomooloo

[ Parent ]
Shuttle by OAB (4.00 / 1) #7 Sat May 23, 2009 at 07:10:14 PM EST
I thought the basic problems with the shuttle design where due to it being a design by committee, in other words a bureaucratic problem.

I thought it was by ambrosen (2.00 / 0) #11 Tue May 26, 2009 at 05:34:56 PM EST
that the concept was flawed and that it was sheer stubbornness that caused them to stick with a reusable vehicle when it was (and is) not feasible to make it reusable.

[ Parent ]
Individual / small group selfishness by Scrymarch (4.00 / 2) #9 Sun May 24, 2009 at 08:00:53 AM EST
Dunno, though selfishness / small group promotion is definitely everywhere, I feel like English (or maybe just London) work culture is at an extreme individualist end. Possibly a side effect of the Thatcher style slash and burn redundancy if you follow that theory of corporate / employee loyalty. Maybe it's just IT - I feel being a contractor or consultant made me more mercenary. Sometimes in the sense of less feeling of personal debt to the company (for benefits, opportunities etc), sometimes in the sense of feeling a sense of duty to the profession rather than whatever daft office political trend was afoot.

The Political Science Department of the University of Woolloomooloo

a wonderful fantasy world by clover kicker (4.00 / 4) #10 Sun May 24, 2009 at 08:43:16 PM EST
I'll quote perhaps my favorite part of The Mythical Man Month -

The project was large enough and management communication poor enough to prompt many members of the team to see themselves  as  contestants making  brownie  points,  rather  than as builders making programming products. Each suboptimized  his  piece  to  meet  his  targets;  few stopped to think about the total effect on the customer.

If I had a dollar for every time I've lived this...

  1. If this quote was shorter I would tattoo it across my knuckles.
  2. They should make MBA students read The Mythical Man Month, preferably Clockwork Orange style.

The City and the Stars | 11 comments (11 topical, 0 hidden) | Trackback