Posts Tagged ‘Blink’

Here’s two more books which fall under the general category of “Serendipity and Chaos“.  They are: “What The Dog Saw” (2009©) and “Linked” (2002©).

The first, “What The Dog Saw“, was written by Malcolm Gladwell.  Gladwell is science-popularizer style writer in the vein of Isaac Asimov.  Basically, he looks for interesting areas of science and then explains them to the general public.  This is the fourth book by Gladwell which I own and have read.  The others are: “The Tipping Point“, “Outliers” and “Blink“.  Those three books are single source texts.  This book is a compilation of a number of stories from his articles previously published in The New Yorker.

The book is divided into three sections and the articles (chapters) are meant to focus around the group headings, which are:  1) Obsessives, Pioneers, and Other Varieties of Minor Genius; 2) Theories, Predictions and Diagnoses; and, 3) Personality, Character and Intelligence.  Unfortunately, the group titles do not provide adequate descriptions of the individual articles.  It is enough to say, that each chapter is a mini-book in itself and Gladwell is a very good writer (at least his writing suits MY tastes).  I won’t describe the articles individually except to say the book title comes from the story about Cesar Milan, aka “The Dog Whisperer“.  Most reviews of Milan’s techniques describe what we humans see when he is training the animals.  This article poses the questions: “What does the dog see?” and directly related: “Is that what makes the technique work?”

Bottom line: like Gladwell’s other three books, this is Highly Recommended!!

The second book is: “Linked“, and was written by Albert-László Barabási.  In this book, the author attempts to explain the current state of network theory.  The first couple of chapters cover the history of network theory and then we are quickly shifted into “current” (circa 1990-2002) theory.  The author contends there are three basic types of networks – “centralized”, “decentralized”, and “distributed”.  The author goes on to explain why he feels distributed networks are emergent and how they exist in a broad range of settings, hardware, software, social, economic and biological.  He has an additional premise they are distributed because there are inherent fail-over mechanisms in them which support the network in ways the other two networks simply can’t reproduce.  Most significantly, from my point of view, he is the first person I’ve heard explain both the “rich-get-richer” and the “winner-takes-all” results of distributed networking concepts in economics.  Finally, the author provides an explanation of the concept of “power law” and how it acts in the context of networking – and he does it with a minimum of formulae and in plain English.  All in all, I found this book a fascinating read and highly recommend it.

Gladwell’s was a $2 clearance book from Half-Price Books and Barabási’s was a discounted (used) book purchased from my $50 Amazon birthday gift card.  The book cost more to ship than to buy!  Very good values, if I do say so myself!!

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…For a marriage to survive, the ratio of positive to negative emotion in a given encounter has to be at least five to one.
  —  Malcolm Gladwell
From his book: “Blink
[This was the first time I ever heard of this type of comparison or the ratio for survival/success.  Intuitively, it strikes me as true.  Militarily for an “average” attack to be considered “probably successful” in advance, the force (attack to defence) ratio must be at least six to one.  It begs the question of how an individual can estimate (count) positive and negative emotions on the fly.  And yet, we are able to because we can all describe relationships as “happy marriage” or “unhappy marriage”.  —  KMAB]

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The first task of Blink is to convince you of a simple fact: decisions made very quickly can be every bit as good as decisions made cautiously and deliberately.
…So, when should we trust our instincts, and when should we be wary of them?  Answering that question is the second task of Blink.  When our powers of rapid cognition go awry, they go awry for a very specific and consistent set of reasons, and those reasons can be identified and understood.  It is possible to learn when to listen to that powerful onboard computer and when to be wary of it.
The third and most important task of this book is to convince you that our snap judgments and first impressions can be educated and controlled.  I know that’s hard to believe.
  —  Malcolm Gladwell
From his book: “Blink

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…If we are to learn to improve the quality of the decisions we make, we need to accept the mysterious nature of our snap judgments.  We need to respect the fact that it is possible to know without knowing why we know and accept that  —  sometimes  —  we’re better off that way.
  —  Malcolm Gladwell
from his book: “Blink
[To misquote “The Last Samurai“: Sometimes, they ARE all perfect!  —  KMAB]

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In the wake of Desert Storm, the Pentagon became convinced that that kind of warfare would soon be an anachronism: no one would be foolish enough to challenge the United States head-to-head in pure military combat.  Conflict in the future would be diffuse.  It would take place in cities as often as on battlefields, be fueled by ideas as much as by weapons, and engage cultures and economies as much as armies.  As one JFCOM analyst puts it: “The next war is not just going to be military on military.  The deciding factor is not going to be how many tanks you kill, how many ships you sink, and how many planes you shoot down.  The decisive factor is how you take apart your adversary’s system.  Instead of going after war-fighting capability, we have to go after war-making capability.  The military is connected to the economic system, which is connected to their cultural system, to their personal relationships.  We have to understand the links between all those systems.”
 [And later…]
Van Riper didn’t believe you could lift the fog of war.  His library on the second floor of his house in Virginia is lined with rows upon rows of works on complexity theory and military strategy.  From his own experience in Vietnam and his reading of the German military theorist Carl von Clausewitz, Van Riper became convinced that war was inherently unpredictable and messy and non-linear.
 —  Malcom Gladwell
From his book: “Blink“, describing modern warfare and Paul Van Riper
[You cannot predict the course of a war based on economics or superior firepower.  Rober McNamarra couldn’t do it for President Johnson and a much lesser man (Donald Rumsfeld) couldn’t do it for “W”.
Ultimately, this is why America’s policy pre-emptive attacks and over-throwing (“replacing”) governments in most parts of the world (particularly Muslim countries) and trying to do nation-building “in our own image” will NEVER work.
When (if) you fight an enemy who is willing to fight on your terms, you may defeat them if you are a superior force.  If you are not superior, it can go either way – even when you are fighting on your terms.  If you are unable to fight on your terms, you must be vastly superior to ensure even modest victory.
If you ultimately are intending to form a new government, the populace must be one which historically is willing to bend to the will of their own government / “superiors” (either through cultural tradition, divine right or extreme force, Germany and Japan after WWII, for example) and not tribal and culturally / economically independent (like Iraq and Afghanistan, for example).
Saddam was in power over twenty years and slaughtered tens of thousands of his own people and still many tribes resisted his rule.  Why would any but the most naïve amongst us believe ALL of his people would welcome us with flowers and kisses, instead of treat us as an invading power – which we were.  The same is true with Afghanistan.  They were not so much governed by the Taliban as loosely confederated under a set of religious beliefs.
Think about this: the United States is spending about $1 BILLION dollars EACH day to keep our troops in Iraq and Afghanistan.  We have over 120,000 of the best trained and equipped soldiers in the world in Afghanistan to fight what is probably an Al Qaeda force of not more than 500 in an area the size of Texas.
That we have killed Bin Laden only means he will not live to see his ultimate economic and cultural victory over us.  Not a military victory, which was never possible, but a victory over us as a world economic super-power because he was able to kick our political system into hyper-militarism – individually spending more as a single country than all of the other countries in the world.  This is the warning President Eisenhower gave us in his famous “military-industrial complex” speech.
To defeat western-civilization (quasi-benign capitalism) at it’s core, Bin Laden only had to accelerate “corporate” capitalism.  With the help of a willing Republican “neo-conservative” government in the White House, controlling both houses of Congress and the Supreme Court, who were all willing to wage a war off budget (read that as “with no public debate over the actual costs or the real lost opportunity costs“) and without raising taxes to pay for the war, the Bush Administration virtually guaranteed an eventual collapse of the American economy.   The miracle is that we have not already had a complete collapse.  We narrowly avoided complete economic collapse in Nov ’08 to Mar ’09.
Bin Laden truly learned the primary lesson of Afghanistan in defeating the Russians:  you need not defeat a superior force in battle; you can bleed the home country to death by fighting their force with fewer (120,000 to 500) and less expensive (does anyone believe it costs a million dollars a year to keep a single Al Qaeda foot-soldier in battle?) ground forces.  (Before anyone starts thinking this was an incredibly brilliant discovery by Bin Laden, please recall this is EXACTLY the same tactic used by General George Washington against the British monarchy in the American Revolutionary War.)
To see if I have any idea what I’m talking about, please refer to my two earlier posts:  “Obama’s Wars” and “View From Under The Bus“.
Please Mr. President – Give Peace A Chance!!!  Get out of these pointless, hopeless and impossible to win wars now!!!  Not in 2012, 2014 or 20-whatever…  NOW!!!  (Yes, I know it will take six months to draw down if we begin withdrawing tomorrow…  So start tomorrow!!!)
It is still NOT too late to save America and Western Civilization…
A Democrat (Still Under The Bus)
 —  KMAB]

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Today I finished reading: “The Long Tail” by Chris Anderson (2006©).  The subtitle is: “Why the Future of Business Is Selling Less of More“.  The book purports to be about the “new” economics of culture and commerce.   I was looking forward to finally getting around to this book as I’ve had it waiting for a couple of months now.  It’s another of the $2.00 books from Half-Price Books.  I have heard the term, “The Long Tail” several times in the last few years.  Usually in context / comparison with the works of  Malcolm Gladwell (“Tipping Point“, “Blink“, “Outliers“).  The author (Anderson) has a similar, populist / popular style which I guess comes from them both being writers in magazines.  Other than this being a book whose concept has entered the popular / mainstream consciousness, I don’t think the book or the concept are as valuable or interesting as Gladwell’s works.

What is a “Long Tail” economy?  A Long Tail economy is one where culture is unfiltered by economic scarcity.  Huh?  Well, here, “economic scarcity” seems to be defined as things which are not stocked at my local store because there is not sufficient local demand.

The basic premise is that we are moving to a world where the manufacturer is going to be expected to carry the finished product in finished inventory (or build to order just in time) instead of the “retail” seller keeping goods in stock.  Given the costs of storage are zero (for the seller), they will carry an unlimited volume (and variety) of product in their sales channel (typically a database driven web site).  This will allow the seller to offer a value-added of a filter (typically some form of recommendation tool and or customer profile/history).  This added value is what will bring you back to the sellers web site for future purchases or other products.  Of course, once you know the location (url) of the manufacturer of the specific item you want, there is no need to use the seller as a middle-man.  At which point, the seller has lost their value until the next time you’re not sure where to get what you want. 

The concept is plausible for items which are entirely (or mostly) purely digital – like sound, writing or images – like e-music, e-books, and e-videos.   These items are easily digitized and electronically transportable.  I am more dubious of the value of this concept for items which we buy based on touch and taste.  I have purchased shoes and clothes using catalogs, so shifting to web sites is not a “BIG” deal, but most of my purchases have been “higher-ended” where the seller will accept shipping costs in both directions if there is a problem.  I’m not convinced there are many sellers who would commit to this level of customer satisfaction on low ticket items.  “Atoms”, to me, seem a bigger problem, than bits and bytes.

The book is an expanded version of an article which appeared in Wired magazine back in 2004.  Since I’ve been a subscriber to Wired for over 10 years, I would have read the original article when it was published.  I have only the vaguest recollection of it, so it didn’t make an impact on my life.  The book is a fast read and I do highly recommend it, but recognize the recommendation is based on recognizing the application of the concept to the digital nature of the goods being sold, not on the strength of the concept applying to the world of manufactured products.

I will be offering a number of quotes from the book over the next few weeks to give you a flavor of the content.

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Last Saturday (26 June ’10), I finished “Partners In Command” by Mark Perry (2007).  The book is a dual biography of Generals George C. Marshall and Dwight Eisenhower.  I purchased the book because I have had a long term interest in Marshall.  Aside from Patton, Marshall has been one of my favorite World War II generals.  The book speaks very favourably of Marshall; almost as highly of Eisenhower; and, rather poorly of everyone else.  In particular, Bradley, Montgomery and Patton suffer by comparison.  The lesson of the book, which the author repeats in almost every chapter: Democracies should only go to war when they are attacked (and therefore “have to fight”), they should only fight when they have allies, and, they should fight for as short a time as is possible to win.
I must admit, I have never “really” been a big fan of Eisenhower.  Partly because I considered him a “community organizer” and not a true general; partly because he was a Republican President – who I felt did little to move the country forward during his eight years in office; and, mostly because he selected an obvious thug – Richard Nixon – to be his Vice President.  I believe had he not done so, it is unlikely Nixon would have ever become President and the country might have been spared the Watergate scandal and its on-going legacy – Carter, Reagan, and both Bush’s.  The last part is probably unlikely, Bush I might still have become President, but I don’t think we would have had to suffer Bush II / Chenny.  Still history is the way it is…
I would still like to read more about Marshall and will be on the lookout for more books about him.  Everything I’ve read about him indicates he was a man of extreme integrity, humility and completely dedicated to his country.
Today (29 June ’10), I finished “Outliers” by Malcolm Gladwell (2008).  This is a book about success.  What does it take to be successful.  It appears that it takes a lot of hard, dedicated work (a mythical 10,000 hours) and a great deal of luck.   The luck is not just personal luck, either.  It seems to involve timing (birth date) and cultural setting.  I’m not sure if I agree with all of Gladwell’s examples and extrapolations of “truths” which come from the examples, but he does make an interesting case.
This is the third book I’ve read of Gladwell’s (“The Tipping Point” and “Blink” being the other two), and I can heartily recommend him as a good read and a provider of new insight – what I would have called a “slap on the side of the head” in years gone by.
Celtic Blues
A little over a week ago, the Boston Celtics lost game seven of the NBA championship to the Los Angeles Lakers.  For years, my brother has insisted that all of professional sports are fixed.  I am not usually a “conspiracy” person, although I have seen moments in games when I questioned some referees calls (and non-calls).  This is the first time though, where I honestly believed the game was absolutely fixed and I will never look at an NBA playoff the same way again.  To start off with the commercials were heavily biased towards the Lakers.  As the game went on – particularly in the second half – they were a virtual coronation.  And this was while the game was still very much in doubt and the “greatest” player on the court (Kobe Bryant) was having an atrocious game.  I don’t mean a choke.  I mean a complete stinker – legacy game.  Instead, every time he got the ball in the third and fourth quarter, he would drive and if there was any defense applied, he was given a foul.  Kobe ended up with ten free throws made in the fourth quarter and the Lakers (as a team) had more than twenty extra free throws than Boston.  This, despite the fact that LA had to play tighter defense in order to come from ten points down to win the game.  In the end, the refs let the Celtics bring it back to within three points after letting the Lakers run ahead by eight.
World Cup News
A similar tragedy is happening in the World Cup this year.  Goals are being disallowed which are clearly in and onside and being allowed when they should not be (mostly players being offside).  Anyway, my three hopefuls have all been sent home (USA, England and Mexico).  I’m now hoping for a final of Germany vs. Brazil as I think that will be the most entertaining matchup.
Diet and Health
Not so good.  I’ve put back on about 12 pounds.  I’m back up around 305!  I’ve had a series of little (and not so little) aches and pains which has reduced my running to almost nothing.  I thought I’d really hurt my back, but it now seems as if I’m just having a flare up of kidney stones.  I’ve been pissing out a series of little grains for a couple of weeks now.  At one point, the pain was so bad I was limping and didn’t even want to walk.  Fortunately, that’s somewhat better now.  This last weekend, I tried to drink them away with a couple of gallons of water, but while it may have cleaned up my urine, it hasn’t fixed the stone problems.  The bottom line is that I’ve got to get back out there jogging.
I’ve been going to the pool instead.  So far, five sessions of treading water of about fifty minutes each.  No pain at all.  I’ve also been able to do the elliptical at the gym at work.  I’ve also tried the rowing at the gym, but that does result in a bit of workout pain (lower heaviness).
This weekend was the running of the Western States 100 Endurance Run.  It was interesting to check it out on-line while it was happening.  It seems like a distant and impossible dream now.
I’m not doing much better on learning to play the drums.  I guess Hil was correct.  “This too shall pass!”  I’m practicing in the car in the morning, but I don’t seem to have the energy (or make the time) to practice on the real drum set Art lent me.
I got the news on my application for the Leadership Development Program at work.  This year, I qualified, but did not make the best qualified list.  My consolation is that’s better than last year when I didn’t even qualify.

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