Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Trail Pictures

Although it seemed like I'd never get around to it, I've finally gotten my Appalachian Trail pictures up on the internet. I'm still in the process of captioning them, but they are in chronological order, so occasionally you can figure out where in the hell the picture is being taken from. This is probably somewhat better than I was doing at the time.
EDIT- Captions complete

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Entry of Shame

A friend of mine owns something that is called "The Ultimate Avengers". What this is, is a modern re-telling of the Captain America mythos, post 9-11 and all, pimples and poxwarts included. It's pretty freaking brilliant, with a lot of tongue in cheek alien conspiracies and Asgardian deities that are sort of, but not quite, like Greenpeace.

For those of us with a more than advanced knowledge of the relationship between covert American activities and Sunni Arab terrorism, it gets just a bit funnier yet. In the twenty-first century, with our fantastic offensive capabilites available to the common man, we're all super-heroes. Or super-terrorists. That's for the tribunals to decide.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Capital Tide

For some reason, in Virginia I found myself in a herd of MBA candidates. They were out day hiking, taking a break from the sometimes surreal world of a full-time business school. It seems that a good deal of the MBA program is about how to lie to employees effectively. It also seems that there are proportionately a lot fewer economics majors in MBA programs than there used to be. I asked the crew what they did for their undergrads: three histories, an anthro, a psych, two journos and a lit. More troubling is that the MBA program, at least as far as these young folks had found, had precious little refresher material on microeconomic concepts.

This might have little to nothing to do with a trend I've seen, both in personal anecdotes and in the weeklies, about the failure of the mass offshore movement. By the end of the decade, mass offshoring of complex business processes will have destroyed more net capital than the 1997 East Asian Financial Crisis. It seems incredible than anyone could underestimate the costs of moving whole businesses overseas, but then again, we are dealing with a generation of business leaders that were as likely to memorize Yeats as Keynes, or were just as likely to encounter a business professor who burnt tiny effigies of Keynes in the mistaken belief that the macroeconomic scion was some sort of Marxist ne'er-do-well.

Back to capitalization. Capitalization is, very broadly speaking, when you spend money now to make (ideally) more money later. Offshoring is a form of this, no matter what they tell you in the PowerPoint slide. To offshore effectively you need working capital for the process, which means you need double the money for the period in which the offshoring takes place. That's if you design the process effectively, which is hard to do since humans and nations don't have a clearly calculated depreciation rate. Effective design also becomes difficult when you are blinded by raw greed. It is also hard to design something when you don't know what the design of your business is, which is more likely than you might think. It's possible to have a great business without anyone knowing exactly how it runs. I think this is a fact many people would do good to ponder.

Raw greed can be a bigger problem then it sounds. Much of the value created in capitalization is based on the amount of money you think you will save *right now*. That estimated saved money then goes back in time - I kid you not- as profit for whatever bag of hot air kicked the idea out in the first place (incidentally, perversion of this Back to the Future mechanism is what got Enron into so much trouble). Hence Mr. PowerPoint Offshore Consultant, for example, sells Company X on offshoring because ten million spent this year out of a hundred million net will save fifty million over the next five years. What he might not mention is that ten million spent on real capitalization will grow the net by ten percent, which is- surprise!- fifty million over five years, the same Bullet Point Brad "saved" you in his five year plan. Except one is growing the value of your company, and the other one is, at best, holding steady, or, at worst, resulting in value destruction. Hello Mr. Dell, what seems to be the problem?

Offshoring can work, and it can work damn well, but if you can't sit down at a table with someone and explain your business vision in a minute or less, you probably are not going to have much luck. Complex business practices are developed over decades (and sometimes generations) of interplay between skilled personnel, and unless you've developed Neuromancer-level brain uploading technology, there is no way you can suck their brains faster than they're growing them. If you can document your business faster than it can work, I suspect your business probably wasn't terribly vital in the first place. If you freeze the business for offshoring purposes, you better hope really hard that Bullet Point Brad was right about this offshoring business, because if he wasn't, you'll grow holes no consultant will be able to stitch back together. Better ready the golden parachute.

The real force at work here, I feel, is not so much good business practice as it is a vote of no-confidence on the part of our business leaders, who lack any faith in the ability of the American workforce to deliver past the current generation. History majors don't study much in the way of non-Western cultures, so perhaps it is natural for this new crop of MBAs to suspect that the East exists in some sort of timeless work bliss. Which is fine for people to believe. Watching dumb people learn new things is one of those little things that makes me so damn jolly.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Adult Diapers

I'm not sure what I can add to what's already been said. Indeed, I think the act itself needs no embellishment.

An American city was brought to a screeching halt due to the placement of a few children's toys.


Friday, February 09, 2007

Homes are Graves for the Living

(*Tuareg proverb)

In 2008, most humans will be living in cities. This figure doesn't count the suburban, exurban, industrial, agricultural, and other types of settled humans required for the existence of cities, and perhaps it is a good thing that it does not. If it did, we would see that the entire Northern hemisphere, meridian to meridian, will consist of settled humans come 2008. It's another victory for human civilization, but the important thing to remember about civilization is that it is not you and it is not me. It is a discrete entity, and its wants are not necessarily aligned to our needs.

If I had a penny for every group that claimed to be "oppressed" by the advent of civilization, I wouldn't be writing this, because I'd be too wealthy to be chained to a computer this fine afternoon. The reason all these folks think they've been put-upon is because, individually, they have. Life gets worse in the cities. You have less children, your life expectancy goes down, and your nutrition goes to hell. Your typical medieval city would have depopulated in thirty years if it didn't constantly receive an influx of farm youths. In cities, women married themselves into domestic prisons for their entire miserable lives. Men submitted to a primate power structure that sent them into certain death for nothing better than the whim or pride of an elite. If you didn't speak our language you were not entitled to the protections of society, you were, in fact, suitable only for the menial jobs rejected by the young men who were themselves scheduled to die. Individuals did this so that this huge thing, the city, civilization, what have you, could continue.

The reason we urbanize is not for ourselves but because as part of a city we build a thing that is bigger than any of us. In times of ferment, when everyone is doubting culture, people stop working for the sake of the culture. They've stopped believing in their civilization. They work not because they are inspired by greatness but because they've forgotten how life could be lived otherwise. Anyone reading this remember how to farm? Hunt?

If I continue along these lines I start sounding oddly like Patrick Buchanan, but without the strange racial aspect. Weirdos aside, something is very wrong when people no longer believe in the society that they are part of. Something to remember the next time you say to yourself that government is part of the problem. If the problem is collective venture, then you might as well be a Tuareg tribesman.