Monday, May 16, 2016


Most of us have no idea what the word curating means so I looked it up and found the following definition: to pull together, sift through, and select for presentation, as music or website content: “We curate our merchandise with a sharp eye for trending fashion,” the store manager explained.

It’s the kind of thing Amazon does with targeted advertising when they track your shopping history to send you ads related to the kinds of products you have either bought in the past or looked at on their site. I’ve noticed recently that my Google searches are starting to show ads for more things that I have shopped for as well.  For most people that’s a good thing. If I was searching for extra wide shoes (I wear a 4E width and those are very hard to find in my local stores) I will see ads for wide shoes when I make my next search on Google. Even if I’m now searching for hardware for my vintage trailer, those shoe ads will continue until I do enough searches for some other item.

There is a movement to do the same thing with your news feeds. The concept is that if you read articles about the latest presidential candidates then you'd like to read more articles about them. That actually sounds like a pretty good service, right? The scary part is that if you begin to focus on just one candidate that same system may focus its future recommendations on that one candidate as well. This naturally narrows your reading to what your “curation” software is spoon-feeding you. It's kind of like limiting your social interactions to just the people you know.

This kind of curation is different from a television news show. The new show has a large and varied audience that has equally varied tastes, so it presents a collection of unrelated news stories. Some of them are very interesting to you while others not so much, BUT if you watch the whole half hour report you get a range of information about a variety of subjects. In other words a well rounded view of what is happening. If on the other hand you only listen to a news station that reports on a narrow range of topics from a single view point you don’t’ get fresh ideas.  Most of us know that guy at the gym or office that only listens to the extreme political talk show; whose entire world is bounded by a single view. The one who is always talking conspiracy theories and never accepts that sometimes it’s not a conspiracy it’s just a coincidence?

I currently use a news aggregator that requires me to manually add new feeds and doesn’t look at what I am currently reading and make recommendations about similar sources. I like it that way because I prefer an eclectic collection of sources so I get a broad range of subjects and viewpoints.  I know people who look at a number of different sources: newspapers, radio, internet websites, and even al jazeera america. 

Dudley Field Malone was co-counsel for the defense of John T. Scopes in the famous "Monkey Trial". In response to William Jennings Bryan's argument against admitting scientific testimony, Malone gave arguably the best speech of the trial in defense of academic freedom. "I have never learned anything from any man who agreed with me," was one of his famous quotes.  In exactly the same way your world of ideas can be circumscribed and limited by software that tries to show you more information that supports or is like what you are already reading. Fresh and new ideas that challenge your existing concepts and accepted wisdom are the food of intellectual thought.
Yes, after you read an opposing viewpoint you may well decide that you were right the first time. Unless you continually challenge what you think you know how you can grow and learn.

Sitting in a classroom being presented with new facts or viewpoints, all of us have experienced the awakening that new information gives us. That moment when we think “Oh, if that’s true then this is true too! I never thought about it like that before.”

If you accept the software driven news aggregators you may well find your intellectual boundaries becoming smaller and more homogenous with little new or thought provoking ideas.

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Here is a link to my writing parter's reprint of an article we wrote a few years ago. Given the state of the stock market over the last couple of weeks, it still seems timely. investors by Allen and Bryan

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Priming the pump

The world economy grew, in per capita terms, at over 3 per cent during the 1960s and 70s but since the 1980s it has been growing at the rate of 1.4 per cent per year (1980–2009).

Despite rising inequality since the 1980s investment as a ratio of national output has fallen in all G7 economies (the US, Japan, Germany, the UK, Italy, France and Canada) and in most developing countries

According to the Economic Policy Institute the top 10 per cent of the US population appropriated 91 per cent of income growth between 1989 and 2006, while the top 1 per cent took 59 per cent.

In other words, we need the electric pump of the welfare state to make the water at the top trickle down in any significant quantity.

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

This thing is broke!

At one point in my carrier I was managing a contract repair facility for an Army training system for the Viper light anti-tank weapon. When I first the field site there were lots of complaints that the Viper training system didn’t work.

After finding almost every trainer turned in tagged as not working passed all the functional tests and did in fact work properly, I discovered that the method of sighting the device to the laser transmitter was very crude and inaccurate. The real problem was that the system was not shooting where the sights were aimed.

I made a cradle that held the device on a precision fixture used for aligning the optics of a different training device and aimed it at a field test device that indicated how much higher or lower and left or right the laser was pointed.

Once the tester read “0 by 0” the sight decal could be applied and the system did indeed shoot where it was aimed and the complaints stopped. Well, sort of stopped. They stopped at my field site but since we where a training center, troops from many other Army posts came to us for training. When they returned home the questions of why that same trainer could get simulated kills at my site but not at their home station became an issue.

The real lesson was that the customer thought the training device was not working when in fact the laser was working fine, just not aiming where the operator intended. Listen to your customer for symptoms but not necessarily for causes and they become a valued part of your troubleshooting process.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Turning failure into success

I found an article on my blog reader “Feedly” that was about how to turn disappointment into success and it was more of the useless pap that people who have no clue how to actually turn that disappointment into success spew out.

They broke the things that happen down into 4 basic groups:

    A desired outcome does not occur.
    A desired outcome does occur but does not produce the feelings or results we expected.
    Our personal and/or professional expectations are unmet by ourselves or another.
    An undesired, unexpected event occurs that is in conflict with what we wanted or planned.

All of the definitions are spot on except for the third one “Our personal and/or professional expectations are unmet by ourselves or another”. It is wrong because success and failure are not about my expectations it’s about accomplishing or none accomplishing the task at hand.

The article then explained that; “What makes these unwanted surprises even harder to accept is our attachment to the way we expected things to go”.

Nonsense! What makes these unwanted surprises hard to except is that you didn’t get the result you PLANNED and WORKED VERY HARD for. When you plant some flowers and they don’t grow you are disappointed because you did all the work, expended all that effort and no flowers.

Turning failure (no flowers) into success (flowers) is very different from changing your attitude about no flowers, yet everything I read and everything people say about turning failure into success is about attitude.

When you apply for a job, success is getting the job and failure is not getting the job. Turning failure into success is about not getting that particular job and then finding a way to actually get that same job. Finding a different job is not turning that failure into success it is creating a new and different success.

While that new success may solve the problem of no job you can’t pretend that you turned the first failure into success.

No one plants flowers without the expectation that they will bloom and you will see the pretty flowers. The flowers blooming is why you plant flowers in the first place. If they don’t bloom you might plant a new batch of seed and try again. That’s not turning failure into success, that’s properly called starting over.

I can feel bad about the failure, accept that it’s just what happened and start over or pick a new direction and my attitude can help me do all of that. Mistaking a new beginning for success is self-delusion.

Reviewing what happened and figuring out what you might have done wrong so you can correct for it or not make the same mistake again is a real and necessary part of growing your abilities. It’s also possible to discover a way to fix whatever failed the first time and actually turn that failure into success. For example you are driving to a meeting and get a flat. Your trip is stopped and that’s a failure. Putting on the spare tire is turning that failure (that one unique stoppage) into success only if you get to your original destination on time.

Any real advice about turning failure into success must explain how to get the original, desired result. All the advice about attitude is about accepting that different result (no flowers) as positive and while that will certainly help you get over the disappointment and that’s a good thing; it is very different than changing the no flowers into flowers.