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Archive for the month “April, 2012”

The Art of Repurposing

As you may have noticed, this blog is partially inspired by a verse in the book of Ecclesiastes – specifically, verse 1:9. (This verse has also inspired Jim Ulvog’s Outrun Change Blog, and for similar reasons.)

Now when “the Preacher” wrote the book of Ecclesiastes, he was not thinking about daylight saving time or three-dimensional printers or the similarities between wax cylinders and the iTunes store. He had much broader concerns. Yet this does not prevent people from taking verses from the book and applying it to the business world, or to the music world, or to other more mundane matters.

Eventually I may look at whether the book of Ecclesiastes may be useful as a guide for business – something that Eric Holter has already examined.

But when businesspeople look to non-business books for inspiration, two books that are often cited are Machiavelli’s The Prince and Sun Tzu’s The Art of War. Again, these authors had concerns that were very different from the business world, but that did not stop people from applying the lessons from these books to other areas.

I don’t know if Donald Krause was the first person to look at The Art of War from a business perspective, but his work The Art of War for Executives has certainly been influential. In a Sonshi.com interview, Krause explained how his book came to be. Here is an excerpt:

The book which really got me interested in Sun Tzu as a business tool was James Clavell’s novel, Noble House. It was obvious that people in the Far East (at least in Clavell’s conception of it) used the principles of The Art of War as a pattern for their competitive thinking.

I saw nothing like this in Western business literature. That is, I did not see a succinct set of tested, proven principles which could be applied across a wide range of business and personal situations in order to bring about one’s desired results. The problems I encountered were associated translating and interpreting Chinese idiom and history. Even though the translations I used (Griffith, Cleary, Sawyer, Clavell, and others) were excellent, they were not presented in business terms. I began keeping a set of personal note cards. When traveling, in the hotel room at night, I would take one passage from The Art of War and rewrite it so I could understand and use it.

So Krause repackaged this military/political guidance to serve people who “warred” in the business world. Therefore, people of this generation regard Sun Tzu in a different way than people of previous generations did.

For those without a voice

I caught a cold over the weekend, and by Saturday night I had lost my voice. I reasoned, however, that I would still be able to communicate with people; I could just send them a text message.

Of course, people without voices were able to communicate well before text messaging was invented. If you have recently visited the tymshft page on Facebook, you will see that I recently shared a picture from the Peoria Historical Society. The picture included the caption

Ancient iPad in the PHS collections.

Needless to say, it was not an iPad, but a slate. PHS links to PBS, which describes the history of these communication devices:

In early schools, each child owned a book-sized writing slate encased in a wood frame. This was used for practicing script and it traveled to and from school with the student each day. The student scratched the slate with a slate pencil, which was a cylinder of rock. Eventually, the slate pencil was replaced by soft chalk, making it easier to write.

Today, of course, classrooms use whiteboards.

And text messaging.

430 BC and 2012 AD – remarkable parallels, or coincidence?

There’s a statement that has been going around for months now. Since I am not trendy, I didn’t encounter it until this month, when Kristoffer Sorensen shared it.

Greece is collapsing,

Iranians are getting aggressive

& Rome is in disarray.

Welcome back
to 430 BC!

This is probably the second best thing I’ve read in the last few days. (The best thing is the various statements asserting that Dick Clark’s passing proves the veracity of the Mayan calendar. But what of Guy Lombardo’s death?)

When you first read the statement, it immediately strikes you as illustrating a series of remarkable parallels between the classical age and our modern times. “What are the odds,” you may say to yourself, “of all three of these things happening at the same time twice?”

Pretty good, when you think about it.

Let’s start with Greece. Throughout its history, Greece has either been part of someone else’s empire, a small standalone nation, or a whole bunch of warring city states. I can’t think of any time that Greece was a strong, dominant power like the United States or France or China. (Macedonia doesn’t count, and Alexander’s empire fell apart fairly quickly anyway.) So if you choose any random year and make the statement “Greece is collapsing,” you have a good chance of being correct.

Now let’s look at Iran. That region of the world has been civilized for thousands of years, and the geography of the region nearly guarantees conflicts. Iran is not like Britain or the United States, with natural geographic barriers separating it from potential enemies. Iran is right out in the open, with the potential of being invaded by people from surrounding countries – or for invading surrounding countries. In modern times, non-surrounding countries have also affected Iran, since it was in a strategic area right between the United States and the USSR during the Cold War, and because of the relative proximity of Israel during and after the Cold War. Again, its geographical location alone results in the statement “Iranians are getting aggressive” to be true in most cases.

The last statement is a little more problematic. Unlike Greece, which has never been a major world power, Rome has enjoyed two stints of power – the first during the Roman Republic and Roman Empire, and the second during the Roman Catholic Church’s dominance in Western Europe. For over one hundred years, Rome has been the capital of the independent nation of Italy.

But despite this power, there have been many instances in which one can truly declare that “Rome is in disarray.” It was certainly in disarray in 1944-1945, during the closing months of the Second World War. It was also in disarray hundreds of years ago, when rival popes ruled in Rome and Avignon. And one certainly can’t claim that Nero’s imperial rule wasn’t without disarray.

Just to illustrate how easy it is to create these statements, I created one of my own.

U.S. law enforcement is breaking the law,

English musicians are setting trends

& China is worrying its neighbors.

Welcome back
to 1975!

Director Ron Howard on a cell phone

One day on Facebook, I got involved in a conversation about actors who became directors. The conversation ended up discussing Ron Howard, and someone mentioned Howard’s directorial debut, Grand Theft Auto.

It bears some similarities to Howard’s later films – Clint Howard appears in the film, for instance. But one thing is clearly different. This Ron Howard film had a budget of $602,000, and was deemed a success with a worldwide gross of $15 million. By way of comparison, Howard’s 2011 film The Dilemma had a $70 million budget.

But you can also see differences when you watch the trailer for the film. Despite only having a budget of less than a million dollars, apparently they worked car phones into the script. I suspect, however, that the car phones weren’t actually operational.

The car also included the destruction of various cars including a $40,000 Rolls Royce. Yes, a $40,000 Rolls Royce. And bear in mind that this is BEFORE the Blues Brothers movie and its automotive mayhem.

P.S. Opie Cunningham says “hell.” You are warned.

P.P.S. Speaking of Opie Cunningham – Ron Howard, Henry Winkler, and Andy Griffith reprised their television roles for a 2008 Barack Obama campaign video. The video, however, has since been removed from distribution.

The Reed College Quest, non-physically

When I was in college, I was involved with the Reed College Quest, the weekly student newspaper. Back in those days, we would type the articles (I recall typing them on the college’s PDP-11/70 computer), send them down to the Sellwood Bee to get typeset, physically lay out the paper, send the laid-out pages to the Sellwood Bee, then receive the printed copies of the paper.

I have no idea how they produce the physical copies of the Quest today, but if you told me back then that someday I could go to a computer thousands of miles away and view an online version of the Quest, I would not have been able to conceive what you can find today at http://www.reedquest.org/. Color pictures? No need to route the articles via !teklabs!? My mind literally would have been blown.

P.S. The Sellwood Bee is online also.

In which I am decidedly non-agricultural

One day I was responding to a request for proposal (RFP) requirement that required a particular piece of computer hardware to be the size of a standard mouse.

I responded to the RFP requirement, initially stating that the hardware was the size of a standard mouse.

Then I thought about it a minute and revised my response. After the revision, the text stated that the hardware was the size of a standard computer mouse.

If a cursor on a screen were still called a CAT, then my clarification would not be necessary.

Hope I die before I become a tourist attraction (Keith Moon and the Olympics)

The hot story floating around this weekend? Olympic organizers have invited Who drummer Keith Moon to play in the Olympics.

The 2012 Olympics.

This could be a problem, according to the Who’s manager Bill Curbishley:

‘I emailed back saying Keith now resides in Golders Green crematorium, having lived up to the Who’s anthemic line ‘I hope I die before I get old’,’ said Curbishley.
‘If they have a around table, some glasses and candles, we might contact him.’

But Julian Shea’s Metro article that discusses the Moon invitation contains a picture that is even more shocking in its own way. The picture is of a historical plaque dedicated to Moon.

Yes, a historical plaque. It reads as follows:

City of Westminster

Keith Moon

Legendary Rock Drummer
With “The Who”

Performed Here At
The Site of The
Marquee Club
In the 1960s

The Heritage Foundation

However, it’s significant to note that the plaque was actually spearheaded by the City of Westminster rather than by English Heritage, who normally does such things. (The Heritage Foundation, not to be confused with the U.S. think tank, is a separate organization from English Heritage.)

English Heritage’s reason for declining to honor Moon? While Moon had been dead for 20 years (the requisite time before a plaque can be bestowed), there was a little issue:

“Moon died aged only 32, and many of his contemporaries, including other members of The Who such as Pete Townshend, are still living. Further time should be allowed to pass so he can be considered alongside his contemporaries.”

Of course, there would be no problem if Townshend and Daltrey had died before they got old. Then everyone could be honored.

Technology and the megachurch – or any church

I was struck by something when I was reading a 2009 post about a megachurch. For purposes of this post, I will ignore the theology of the megachurch in question – after all, Greg Laurie’s theology is very diferent from Joel Osteen’s theology – but I will note something that was said about the PRESENTATION. While reading this description, note that the author, Ben Myers, was actually present within the church itself.

Every moment of the service, from start to finish, was broadcast on to huge screens around the auditorium. When the pastor spoke, he would address one of the many cameras. When the worship-leader spoke to the congregation, he would speak into the camera. Even the heartfelt altar call at the end of the service was addressed to the camera.

But at one point Myers’ eyes strayed from the screens.

…towards the end of the church service I glanced down from the vast screen, and for a moment I glimpsed the flesh-and-blood pastor speaking passionately into the camera. It was strange to see the man standing there like this: a miniature version – touchingly flimsy and remote and insubstantial – of the real preacher whom I’d been watching on the screen. I felt embarrassed to have seen him like this – like the embarrassment of visitors at a hospital, who don’t know where to look – so I quickly averted my eyes, and returned my gaze to the big reassuring smile on the screen high above.

But this is not limited to the megachurch. Many years ago, I remember attending a church. I’ve forgotten the circumstances, and I don’t think that it was a megachurch, but I remember being struck by a thought – this looks just like a TV show.

Again I don’t want to get into a theological discussion here, but many churches of many different theological persuasions have incorporated not only certain technologies, but certain practices that are related to the use of those technologies. My own church, which is certainly not a megachurch in any sense and which does not include a video feed of the services, is one of several gazillion churches that makes heavy use of the greatest theological tool of the 21st century, Microsoft PowerPoint.

But the biggest technological change in church history is probably not PowerPoint, or the television camera, or online bank deductions for church offerings. The biggest technological change in church history (with the exception of the printing press) is voice amplification. Back in the 1700s, George Whitefield had to yell to be heard. Today’s pastor can speak in a much softer voice, yet potentially still be heard by thousands.

The perspective on “clockwise”

With a blog with the name “tymshft,” it makes sense to consider how time is communicated.

At this point, some of you are looking at me and shaking your head. “You just check it on your phone, stupid!”

Some people realize that I’m talking about clocks – you know, those things that show you three or four numbers that tell you what time it is.

However, some people – not all of you – realize that I’m thinking about something completely different. While the thing that I’m thinking about was called a “clock,” it would never display a time such as “12:35” or “1:47.” In fact, although this clock had numbers on it, no number was greater than 12. (For the moment I’ll ignore clocks with “numbers” such as XII – I realize that some heads are spinning already.)

So how could a clock display the proper time if it didn’t have any numbers greater than 12?

Now I suspect that my older readers are looking at me and shaking their heads. “You just look at the hands, stupid!”

But how do you explain clock hands to someone who has never seen them? I will attempt to do so in the next two paragraphs.

Imagine a circle in which the numbers 1 through 12 are arranged around the circumference of the circle. Now imagine that there are two sticks that point out from the center of the circle – a short stick and a long stick. These are called “hands.” (Don’t ask me why.) Let’s start by looking at the short “hand.” This represents the hour. If it’s pointing at the number 12, then it’s 12:00. If it’s pointing at the number 1, then it’s 1:00. If it’s between the 12 and the 1, then we have to look at the long “hand.” This represents the minute. Let’s take a deep breath, because this is where the math comes in. When using the minute hand, everything has to be multipled by five. If the minute hand is pointing at the 1, then it’s five minutes after the hour. If the minute hand is pointing at the 9, then it’s forty-five minutes after the hour. But if the minute hand is pointing at the 12, then it’s zero minutes after the hour.

So what does this mean? This means that if your clock says “12:00,” the older clock would have the hour hand (again, the short hand) pointing at the 12, and the minute hand also pointing at the 12. If your clock says “12:05,” then the older clock’s hour hand points at the 12, and the minute hand points at the 1. If your clock says “12:42,” then the hour hand is between the 12 and the 1, and the minute hand is between the 8 and the 9.

For those of us who grew up with this time-telling system, it’s pretty intuitive. But if you’ve never seen a clock with hands before, the whole time-telling thing could baffle you for days, or weeks, or months.

But that’s not what I wanted to talk about.

On these older clocks, both the hour and the minute hand move around the circumference of the circle in a particular direction. And they always move in that direction, never reversing themselves to go in the other direction. That direction, naturally, is referred to as “clockwise.” And if you’ve never seen a clock, I haven’t the slightest idea of how to explain “clockwise” to you.

Now if you consider the opposite direction – in other words, moving around the circumference of the circle in the opposite direction from the clock hands – that direction is called “counter-clockwise.”

Once you understand the workings of a clock with hands, the “clockwise” and “counter-clockwise” directions are extremely easy to comprehend. You can use them at will to describe a number of things:

When you enter the building, you’ll be entering on the southwest corner. If you go clockwise in the main hall that circles the building, you’ll reach the Learning Center meeting room. I’ll be in there.

Ah yes, perfectly understandable – if you live in two dimensions.

Unfortunately, we live in three dimensions (except for Professor Nick Wheeler, who lives in seventeen dimensions).

To understand the problem, imagine a glass clock in the center of the hall. Look straight at the clock, and watch the clock hands move. They are moving clockwise.

Now go behind the glass clock and look at the hands.

In which direction are the hands moving?

Changes in phone number ownership – from party line to family line to personal line

I have written about the multi-user phone before, but that was in the context of phones as computers. Let’s ignore the fact that a phone can be a computer, and look at a phone as a phone. When you dial a phone number, who answers?

Privateline.com documents the first answer to this question in its page about the party line. Today, party line means something entirely different, but in the 20th century “party line” referred to a phone line that was shared by multiple households. This provided some advantages:

For years, [Homer Benedict] shared the telephone line with the woman next door. When he was working in his yard, she would pick up on his ring and summon him inside to take the call.

However, party lines had clear privacy issues, as Doris Day and Rock Hudson fans will attest. (Privateline.com notes that despite the movie “Pillow Talk” being set in New York City, that city had actually eliminated all party lines by 1930.)

Because of this, most people converted to what were then known as private lines (although Homer Benedict didn’t convert to a private line until he turned 100, and then only because the party line wouldn’t support Lifeline service). Back when I was growing up, private lines were actually considered to be private. After all, if you dialed a number, you would get mom, or dad, or one of the kids. And since these were the days in which phones were attached to the wall (i.e. no cordless phones), you usually wouldn’t have people eavesdropping on your calls. Usually.

But as I noted in my October 2011 post, more and more people are moving to cellular phones. While such a phone could theoretically be shared by a family, it often makes more sense for the phone to be associated with an individual.

This progression from party line to family line to personal line has numerous ramifications, but I’m just going to talk about one of them. I’ll return to my initial question – when you dial a phone number, who answers?

In the party line world, that answer could vary. Perhaps Doris Day isn’t at home, so Rock Hudson answers (ignoring the “distinctive ring” feature that indicated that the call was for Doris). This might be helpful if you’re the woman who lives next to Homer Benedict, but it could be disastrous if you’re trying to reach Doris Day and you reach Rock Hudson instead.

In the family line world, there was less variability – you’d usually have someone answer who was a member of a particular household. What would usually happen, however, is that the intended recipient of the call would NOT be the one to answer. Often dad would answer the phone, only to receive yet another call for his popular teenage daughter.

In the personal line world, the phone is usually answered by one person. If I dial a particular number, then I expect that a single person will answer that phone, and I will get flustered when someone else answers it.

These things have changed over the years, and we have had to change our behavior and our expectations accordingly. Sometimes we get confused – what happens if you call me and ask for my wife, forgetting that you are calling me on my mobile phone and my wife is in another county? Or what happens when a teenage boy calls that cute teenage girl – but he mistakenly calls her on her home line and her dad answers?

But the “who will answer the phone” question is just one of many questions that has resulted from these changes in phone number ownership. What issues do you encounter because of this?

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