We Plow the Earth

I can think of no better way to start the new year than a reminder of what’s important. I think the digerati occasionally forget we have bodies, and those bodies have certain requirements, like food.

[This news from the Baton Rouge newspaper The Advocate](http://theadvocate.com/home/1678148-125/higher-ed-cuts-going-deeper.html) is troubling not only because it is additional cuts in an already pretty bleak landscape for higher education in Louisiana but because it’s the first the faculty at UL have heard about it, so far as I know. Our administration is really good at communicating about Christmas parties, but not so good at communicating news about the business of the university itself.

And the loss to the library is catastrophic. It is already the case that we haven’t seen any serious book acquisitions in six years — yes, **six years** — but this kind of cut will probably begin to cut into digital acquisitions like JSTOR and Project Muse which, for some, is the only remaining connection to the larger sphere of science and scholarship outside those things which we acquire ourselves. And since a number of faculty have not seen any serious pay increases since 2005, that money too is drying up.

[2012 is the year I teach myself how to program in Python.](http://ocw.mit.edu/courses/electrical-engineering-and-computer-science/6-00-introduction-to-computer-science-and-programming-fall-2008/)

Business Narrative

[The _Forbes_ reviewer mentioned previously](http://johnlaudun.org/20111230-forbes-asks/) is Steve Denning, who is “the author of six business books and consultant to organizations around the world on leadership, innovation, management and business narrative.” *Business narrative*?

Forbes asks “How did capitalism get into this mess?”

The question is in the middle of an article reviewing a new business book that points out that managing a business to “maximize” shareholder value is, according both to the book’s author as well as the Forbes’ reviewer, “the dumbest idea in the world.”

I have long maintained that one key to the massive profits of the nineties and the first decade of the twenty-first century was the investment bubble created by the baby boomers after the Reagan era’s creation of IRAs. With that, a whole lot of money started flowing into the stock market, driving up prices. Of course, the only people who really profited from this were market professionals, bankers, and top executives. Employees saw little in their paychecks and only those investors who cashed out before the various crashes, and there is one more big one to come, made it rich.

But those who did were very rich indeed, and the finance and investment industry, which thanks to banking and insurance industry deregulation are pretty much all the same thing now, is going to make sure that that money won’t slip through their fingers again.

What I want to know is: what about piddling little investors like me who would like to invest in companies who make things and earn a return on our investment the old-fashioned way?

“People who can climb the greasy pole of whatever hierarchy they decide to attach themselves to.”

Any discussion of leadership that proceeds, if only in part, through a discussion of Joseph Conrad’s _Heart of Darkness_ has got to be worth the time it takes to read it.

Here’s one passage I like which proceeds through _Heart of Darkness_:

> Why is it so often that the best people are stuck in the middle and the people who are running things—the leaders—are the mediocrities? Because excellence isn’t usually what gets you up the greasy pole. Jumping through hoops. Getting along by going along. Being whatever other people want you to be, so that it finally comes to seem that, like the manager of the Central Station, you have nothing inside you at all. Not taking stupid risks like trying to change how things are done or question why they’re done. Just keeping the routine going.

Perhaps it will surprise some readers that this comes from William Deresiewicz’s address at West Point in October 2009. One of his observations: after so much success, we have developed a cadre of individuals who think they are leaders because they can answer the same old questions. But they cannot themselves formulate any original questions. That is our task ahead…

Ink and Paper

Beautiful student film about two technologies that I still love very much. Thanks to [Kottke](http://kottke.org/) for the heads up. Embedded video is HD. Watch it full screen, or if the HD is going to be too much, click on Vimeo to go to their site to watch it in SD.

“A little mischief has always had its virtues.”

[New Scientist has a great write-up][1] on what amounts to an early hacking of electric information technologies: Nevil Maskelyne putting one over on Marconi and Fleming in their demonstration of the supposed security of wireless communication before the Royal Academy. Their first clue that things would not go as planned: the repeated signaling of the word “rats,” which apparently was a very rude thing to say in 1903.

[1]: http://www.newscientist.com/article/mg21228440.700-dotdashdiss-the-gentleman-hackers-1903-lulz.html