Apollo 11 as a Paradigm

Saturday, July 20, 2013
Apollo 11: Task Accomplished
“That we had seen a demonstration of man at his best, no one could doubt—this was the cause of the event’s attraction and of the stunned numbed state in which it left us. And no one could doubt that we had seen an achievement of man in his capacity as a rational being—an achievement of reason, of logic, of mathematics, of total dedication to the absolutism of reality.”– Ayn Rand

Tuesday, July 16, 2013
The Virtues of Aviation Culture
The facts of reality force an ethos on pilots. The virtues of aviation are Intelligence, Self-Control, Independent Judgment, and Honor. Within these overlapping spheres are other concepts, often shades of meaning with arguable differentiations among them.

Monday, July 8, 2013
Knowledge Maps
Even if the philosophers could decide on a common vocabulary and a common narrative, the primary constraint may be the very dependence on verbal expressions: graphs might serve everyone better. Outside of information systems, we do not study means of graphical representation, except, of course, for actual artists.
Readability is the only Metric
Documentation is Specification
The Genius of Design
The Art of Typography
How to Hire a Technical Writer

Wednesday, July 3, 2013
Bob Swanson and Genentech
Bob Swanson was 29 when he provided the money for Prof. Herbert Boyer to start Genentech. Like all overnight successes, the real story is more complicated, with deep roots. Bright, accomplished, and motivated, Swanson had obvious potential – and a string of failures to show for it. In the book, 1,000 Years, 1,000 People: Ranking the Men and Women Who Shaped the Millennium, (New York :, Kodansha International, 1998) the authors ranked Bob Swanson number 612 for launching the biotechnology revolution.

After a year of battling brain cancer via surgery and chemotherapy Bob Swanson passed away on Monday, December 6, 1999, at his home in Hillsborough, California. He was 52.


Venture Capital

Friday, June 28, 2013
Venture Capital
“Writing the check is the easy part.” Genentech, Apple, Intel, Cisco, Oracle, … none of them would exist, nor would a hundred others that created billions of dollars worth of new wealth by delivering new inventions. More than the money – though there was that – venture capitalists brought expertise in management and marketing, guiding start-ups, connecting people with each other, sometimes even making the most difficult of all decisions, to fire the founder CEO for the good of the company.

Everyone knows Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak; many recognize Nolan Bushnell, Gordon Moore, and Mike Markkula. Fewer have heard of Arthur Rock, Tom Perkins, or Don Valentine. Something Ventured (website here) is their story, the viewpoint of the venture capitalist. They are a humble lot. At the end of the movie, they admit that writing the check is the easy part. Without the inventors, the creators, the innovators, the visionaries, they would have nothing in which to invest. But, invest they did – and do.
“They saw opportunity where others only saw risk.”

Atlas Shrugged’s John Aglialoro
Capitalist Culture: Cairo 1600
Tribute to Steve Jobs
The One Percent are the Atlases

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

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.