May Archive Links

Friday, May 31, 2013
Readability is the Only Metric
What you can measure, you can improve. Whether you need creative content for e-commerce or step-by-step instructions for machine repair, you must reach your audience. Microsoft Word offers metrics for readability, from the Grammar and Spelling checker, under Tools. We have no quantified methods for creativity, invention, cleverness, or insight. We can measure word length, sentence length, and sentences per paragraph. It is not perfect. In fact, it can be gimmicked, tricked, and gamed. But it works.

Friday, May 17, 2013
Sándor Kőrösi Csoma

He walked from Hungary to Tibet and brought the language of Tibet to the West. His grammar of their language is also the foundation of our knowledge of their religion because he worked from the holy books of Lhasa monks. His name is variously rendered: Alexander Csomo de Körös is also accepted. He called himself a “Siculo-Magyar” and I thought that (like me) he was Sicilian and Hungarian, but, in fact, “Siculo” is a latization of Szekel, the hereditary guardians of the Hungarian frontier who claim direct descent from the remnants of the Huns.

Sunday, May 12, 2013
The Success of the WEIRD People

No single cause explains our standard of living. From the Renaissance to the Enlightenment, the industrial revolution, and now the information age, the upward rise in standard of living is the material evidence of deeper attributes. The aggregate of those beliefs – largely unstated and accepted as “normal” – does explain our success.

“The Weirdest People in the World: How representative are experimental findings from American university students? What do we really know about human psychology?” by Joseph Henrich, Steven J. Heine, and Ara Norenzayan (all from the University of British Columbia Department of Psychology and published in Behavioral and Brain Sciences, Vol33; 2-3 , June 2010, pp 61-83; available from the authors here) explains that we have made ourselves – the Western, Educated, Industrialized, Rich, and Democratic people – the standard for “human nature.” They say cogently that psychological experiments which supposedly tease out the basic patterns of “human nature” really tell us only about a small group: undergraduates in psychology departments, their friends, and sometimes their young children. The paper demonstrates that most people on Earth seem to hold entirely different views than we do. And “views” is the basic problem. What we accept as standard optical illusions work differently or not at all among different peoples around the world. The paper is well worth the time to read through and mark up.

I found in their thesis the unintended corollary argument that our success is the result of those very attributes that set us apart from everyone else on Earth.

Saturday, May 11, 2013
Entrepreneurship

Writing over 300 newspaper and magazine articles about business, technology, and culture, I have interviewed very many entrepreneurs. Perhaps my personal favorite was “The Business of Musical Theater: The Dough behind the Do-Re-Mi” for the New Mexico Business Journal. I have met all kinds of successful entrepreneurs and all kinds of not-so-successful. “All kinds” describes both the limitations and the potentials. In other words, there is no formula. The Austrian School of Economics has worried this problem for over 75 years. As the leading advocates for laissez faire capitalism, the Austrians have never agreed among themselves what entrepreneurship “is.”

The modern history of computing echoed much of the early history of railroading in America. Failures and successes both combined to re-direct existing capital (whether trackage and rolling stock or software and hardware) and did so to attract ever larger investments. (See The Man Who Found the Money: John Stewart Kennedy and the Financing of the Western Railroads by Saul Engelbourg and Leonard Bushkoff (Michigan State University Press, 1996). In the days of railroading, the term “venture capitalist” would have sounded redundant.

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