Monday, April 2, 2012

Getting smacked around with a stupid stick

Spring has come very early to Minnesota and Friday I found myself at a biker coffee house's outdoor space listening to bunch of over-caffienated males adjusting to sunshine and warm air six weeks ahead of schedule.  One guy rode up on a seriously nice Ducatti toting a four-day-old Nikon D-4 DSLR.  I'm not much into motorcycles but I am into cameras that capture great video so we spent time admiring his newest toy.

At one point, I noticed the conversation around us had turned to the high costs of college and I discovered camera guy was also a Harvard grad—the son of a Harvard professor.  Folks started quizzing him about whether he thought there was anything worth learning at $40,000+ a year.  No, he assured us, there probably is nothing worth knowing that costs that much money to learn but added, "You don't go to Harvard for what you learn—you go to meet people."  Considering the long line of publicly embarrassing megafools from William Kristol to W. Bush who got degrees there, it is probably a good thing folks don't go to Harvard to actually learn anything anymore.

Now maybe Harvard has never been anything but an expensive social club.  But as someone who grew up reading J. K. Galbraith, I know for a fact that there was once a time when the Harvard Yard crackled with intellectual energy and economic advice out of Cambridge actually made people's lives better.  So you must excuse me for believing that the Harvard of useless arrogant twerps is new.

Unfortunately, Harvard is not alone in its slide from primo educational institution to its current role as a dispenser of trained incapacity.  The whole country has been sliding downhill for at least 35 years.  I don't wish to sound like an old coot claiming the old days were better but when it comes to measurable intellectual performance, the old days WERE better.  The following story of the F-22 is an especially good example of how far we have fallen.  Keep in mind that the top USA fighter of WW II (the P-51) was designed and built in 102 days after the contract was signed and flew only 48 days later when the engine "finally" arrived.  The F-22 has been under construction for over 25 years, will cost $400 million per copy, and it still doesn't fly very well.

A Quarter-Century Later, Stealth Fighter Finally Ready for Combat

By David Axe
March 27, 2012

After nearly 20 years of development and $65 billion, the F-22 Raptor stealth fighter entered service with the U.S. Air Force in 2005. But it wasn’t until this month that the first squadron of Lockheed Martin-built F-22s was fully combat-ready with ground-mapping radars and a flexible bomb payload — standard equipment on most Air Force strike jets. The cost to bring the roughly 150 front-line Raptors up to this normal level of capability: an extra $8 billion, boosting the per-jet cost from $350 million to almost $400 million.

The belated outfitting is symptomatic of the Air Force’s “spiral” approach to warplane development, and a foreboding sign for the Raptor’s successor, the smaller F-35 Joint Strike Fighter. Rather than wait until a jet design is fully developed, the Air Force sends early models out into the world as soon as they meet a minimum standard for combat performance. The planes get extra enhancements over time to bring them up to full spec. While this approach ensures the flying branch gets some utility out of its new aircraft as soon as possible, it also obscures the true time and investment needed to fully develop a new warplane.

The F-22 entered service seven years ago with its air-to-air weapons mostly in place, but with only rudimentary bombing systems. Likewise, the roughly $200-million F-35 will possess only a fraction of its expected capabilities when it finally enters service sometime after 2018. That could force the Air Force to hold onto older fighters far longer than it ever expected, in order to buy time for the new jet’s spiral upgrades.

This month’s “Increment 3.1″ update to the F-22 adds a mapping function to the jet’s radar plus more accurate targeting and the ability to carry eight satellite-guided bombs. ”A four-ship of Increment 3.1 aircraft can successfully find, fix, track, target and engage targets in the most challenging of anti-access environments,” Lt. Col. Paul Moga told Flight. What he didn’t say is that the Boeing-made F-15E has had similar skills since the 1990s. more
Over the years, I have read dozens of explanations for why this country has gone stupid—from fluoridation in the water and canceling prayer in schools to teacher's unions and budget cuts.  I have never found these explanations very compelling but in the most recent issue of Wired Magazine, I found an explanation I rather like.  It argues that by favoring extroverts over introverts in USA society, we have glad-handed our way out the habits that lead to genuine accomplishment.  I also like the idea that because the Internet was designed by thoughtful introverts for their own needs, the world may not always be run by people who can afford to waste $40,000+ a year going to a school that is really only about meeting people.

Clive Thompson on the Power of Introversion

By Clive Thompson
March 21, 2012 

Guy Kawasaki, by all appearances, seems like an outgoing guy. A former Apple “evangelist,” he’s an omnipresent voice online, blogging his ideas about entrepreneurship and tweeting 40 times a day to his half-million followers.

But a few years ago he posted a surprising 140-character revelation. “You may find this hard to believe,” Kawasaki wrote, “but I am an introvert. I have a ‘role’ to play, but fundamentally I am a loner.” His followers were gobsmacked.

You can understand their confusion. As Susan Cain points out in her much-discussed new book, Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, introverts get a bad rap in American culture. Ever since Dale Carnegie began writing manuals might l on glad-handing your way up the corporate ladder, US society has embraced the idea that extroversion is key to success: Your achievement—and even your level of creativity—depends upon your being gregarious and outgoing and able to work well in a team.

But as Cain’s work indicates, a new picture is emerging. Forcing everyone to act like extroverts harms the quality of our work and our lives. The good news that I’d add? Many digital tools are helping to mitigate that harm.

About half of Americans are introverts, Cain says. These are people who have a superb ability to focus but work best alone and become drained by too much enforced socializing. Yet the US workplace has evolved in complete opposition to their needs. Private office space has shrunk dramatically: 30 years ago, companies averaged more than 500 square feet per employee; today it’s less than 200. Meanwhile, corporations have pushed employees to work in face-to-face teams, marching them endlessly into conference rooms for brainstorms.

“There’s such a stigma against introversion,” Cain says. “To reveal that you’re an introvert puts you in a bad light.”

Yet this incessant teamwork isn’t useful. A mountain of studies has shown that face-to-face brainstorming and teamwork often lead to inferior decisionmaking. That’s because social dynamics lead groups astray; they coalesce around the loudest extrovert’s most confidently asserted idea, no matter how daft it might be.

What works better? “Virtual” collaboration—with team members cogitating on solutions alone, in private, before getting together to talk them over. As Cain discovered, researchers have found that groups working in this fashion generate better ideas and solve problems more adroitly. To really get the best out of people, have them work alone first, then network later.

Sounds like the way people collaborate on the Internet, doesn’t it?

Indeed it is—and as I’ve noticed, my introvert friends love it. Sure, the digital era has uncorked a fire hose of interaction, but it’s mostly asynchronous. With texting, chat, status updates, comment threads, and email, you hash over ideas and thoughts with a pause between each utterance, giving crucial time for reflection. Plus, you can do so in private.

“This is precisely what brings out the best in introverts,” Cain agrees. It’s why someone like Kawasaki thrives online. And it’s how the epic collaborations of the digital age—like Linux and Wikipedia—function: with a constellation of folks, many of whom probably peg the needle on the Introvert-O-Meter, working intimately but remotely.

Granted, not all online tools are good for introverts. As Cain says, research shows that Facebook’s endless friend-collecting is more appealing to extroverts than introverts.

But overall the irony here is pretty gorgeous. It suggests we’ve been thinking about the social web the wrong way. We generally assume that it has unleashed an unruly explosion of disclosure, a constant high school of blather. But what it has really done is made our culture more introverted—and productively so. more


  1. We have fake weapons to fulfill fake requirements for fake wars in modern USA....

    I believe we are defined somewhat by those we hold in esteem. Your P-51 Mustang story (BTW designed around the use of a British design Merlin engine) reminds me of one of my Producer Extraordinaire heroes, Henry J. Kaiser

    Many historians believe in WWII that the Germans had the best weapons and the US had the best supply chain. The war was won more with DC3's and Liberty Ships than Sherman's and Mustangs. Kaiser had never built a ship but he permanently changed the ship-building industry when he put his efforts to modernizing ship construction for WWII.

    Would Henry J. Kaiser even be able to get an entry-level design job at Lockheed today?

    David Bauer, CT

  2. You are quite right about fake weapons. Even in WW I, fighter planes were little more than playthings for rich young men like BARON von Richthoven. Galbraith's strategic bombing survey concluded that all those B-17s over Schweinfurt and Berlin had very little to do with the outcome of WW II. And one would be VERY hard-pressed to come up with a war scenario that would be changed by the introduction of the F-22.

    I think the overwhelming consensus of the arms guys is that the definitive weapon of WW II was USSR's T-34 tank.

    And yes, I totally agree that Henry Kaiser's streamlined production schemes are one the great rarely-told stories of our history.

  3. This is a bit off-topic, but you might be interested in this post:

    "Ptolemaic Economics in the Age of Einstein"