Shameless Blog Self-promotion

Last month, Ray and I took a two-week cruise to Hawaii, round trip from San Francisco, with Hillsdale College.  Over at my personal blog, RushBabe49.com, I am documenting that trip with  pictures and commentary, in 1-2 day bites.  You are all invited to drop by and read my posts.  The latest describes our day in Lahaina, Maui (day 9 of the 15-day cruise).  Scroll down for earlier posts, starting with Day One when we left San Francisco.  Sea days were spent in lectures given by some people you are sure to be familiar with.  Each post starts with the image below.  Please visit and comment!


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Book Review “The Autodesk File”

A comment John made (#18) on a recent post by 10 cents (“Programming Question”), reminded me I had reviewed one of John’s books. The review was posted a while back on the legacy site. As this is one of the most worthwhile books I have ever read, I thought it should be posted it here.

A work of non-fiction is understood in a context. A great work actually articulates the context before anybody else gets it. A review of such a book may go seemingly far afield, if the book’s power can be construed to provoke and, indeed, license the inspired musings of its readers. Such is the case here, as “The Autodesk File”’s roots are deep in the intellectual, technological, economic, financial, and even spiritual soil of this, the spring garden of the information age.

When was the last time you couldn’t put down a book which had not a single murder, courtship, love or sex scene? OK, I’m not counting some ancillary trysts consisting of mergers and takeovers, which some might construe as sexy, or at least allude to being on the receiving end of a certain Anglo-Saxon gerund. This book contains no obscenities, save a rare mention of taurine spoor. That serves as a welcome reminder: important ideas and even emotions are amenable to description sans vulgarity.

Lest one think this a narrow commercial exposition, “The Autodesk File” is in the public domain in multiple formats. Neither is it a mere exposition of commerce. About half way through, amidst essays explaining the nature of businesses dealing in intellectual property (rather than capital-intensive equipment), the reader is treated to a short science fiction story whose theme is no less than a plausible tale of the origin of human life. Our bodily construction is, after all, prescribed in lines of code, albeit compressed into helixes wound around themselves then wrapped around histones. Like some of their software counterparts, they, too, must be unzipped before use.

Also punctuating this eclectic opus are quotes from Aristophanes. It is a tour de force, a truly awe-inspiring account of much more than the building and workings of one trailblazing company. It encapsulates the noblest of human aspirations, idealizations, creativity, ingenuity and critical self-examination; inescapable is the conclusion that voluntary cooperation and exchange of ideas, knowledge and capital is a great boon to the world at large. If a business is built to serve the needs of customers by creating products of the highest possible quality, greed is not a good; it is irrelevant. Also inescapable is the perhaps ironic conclusion that ongoing success requires continual vigilance, lest arrogance take hold. The fruition of critical self-examination can be seen in renewal of that same humility which was so essential in powering that first whiff of success.

Nonetheless, apart from arcane sections dealing with technical matters of computer hardware and programming (these, too, may be great for the cognoscenti; this writer simply knows too little), this book is a spellbinder. Readers may be surprised to be persuasively regaled with the fundamentals of various disciplines, including economics, finance, taxation, corporate law, engineering, computer science, thermodynamics, rocket science, quantum mechanics, cosmology and the nature of reality. That is, readers who don’t know John Walker. For those who do, none of this is surprising.

Have you ever had a million dollar idea? I have – lots of ‘em. Have I turned even one of those ideas into a product? Nope. Why not? Because I lacked the understanding, the talent, and the single-minded discipline to even get one idea off the ground. This book, edited by Ratburger’s own John Walker (himself author of most of the collected writings), is a chronicle of birth, growth, crises and maturation of Autodesk Inc., whose products helped unleash the creativity and productivity of millions of people. It did so beginning with a key insight: that the infant personal computer was a general tool and not a specific workstation. As a general tool, through the intelligent design of software, it would rapidly evolve in utility in virtually every field of endeavor, beginning with design. Design, in this line of thinking, is a logical first step down the path which aims, eventually, to capture all of reality in the box we call a computer. This stunning insight occurred while all the rest of us still went through our days typing on an IBM Selectric, without once even using the word “computer.” Way back then in 1980, virtually none of us thought about computers or any of the other words and things without which our lives today would be unimaginable. Historically speaking,1980 happened yesterday.

An additional insight guided Autodesk’s ethos: that personal computers would grow exponentially in processing power and become useful by ordinary people (with no computer or programming skills) to undertake virtually any task. Autodesk’s first product,  AutoCAD, moved design from a small number of dedicated, expensive CAD workstations operated by highly-trained people, to desks virtually everywhere where drawing might be needed. In the process of “squeezing too much code into too small a box,” Autodesk did not compete with previous generations of single-purpose CAD workstations which cost 10 – 50X as much. Instead, it created and increased a market for CAD by the same orders of magnitude, by bringing this tool to the 98% of designers and draftsmen who could not afford dedicated CAD workstations.

In less than one year, this new company had a hit product. Time to rest on one’s laurels? How about after the IPO? Time to coast? Not quite. Going into the CAD business – and that is the business, as opposed to the software business (read the book to learn why), is something like launching a rocket from Earth and hoping to land on a comet and send back data – all except that the precise trajectory of the comet cannot be known, and its surface material and contours are completely unknown. The difficulties were perhaps not unlike those encountered by the ESA’s $1.8 billion Rosetta/Philae spacecraft which did rendezvous and land on comet 67P. Philae’s tether harpoons failed to fire, so the probe bounced and wound up in a permanently-shaded spot (due to an unanticipated hard surface, they likely would not have worked anyway), preventing use of solar power. Batteries enabled an estimated 80% overall mission success. AutoCAD’s launch – with $59,000 in capital, mid-course hardware and software corrections and “landing” on users, by contrast, remains successful to this day.

“The Autodesk File” attributes success to the company’s understanding that it represented what it coined “The New Technological Corporation.” This is an an enterprise which does not conform to traditional capital-intensive business, as it can deploy intellectual, debt-free leverage. Such businesses embrace an unpredictable but essential element: “wild talent.” This talent is a necessary but not sufficient condition for success when it comes to creating software, which is unlike most all prior businesses. Rather than capital, such entities require a peculiar kind of talent – one which grasps the present desires of a market, knows what is possible with present hardware and the correctly plots the trajectories of both the market and evolving hardware. I believe it to be objectively true that the editor is faithfully and humbly describing the truly awe-inspiring talent he, himself, brought to Autodesk. Other such individuals, like Jobs or Gates, are known in the early computer and software businesses. Few, however, have operated as willing members of an extended team with humility, dedication to excellence and human decency. If nothing else, “The Autodesk File” shows how this can be accomplished. 

Attempts to find individuals with “wild talent” are most difficult, maybe impossible. “Wild talent” illustrates the essential difference between aggregate information, traditionally used by analysts to “value” companies which trade on public exchanges, and actual events which take place within any company. For instance, money spent on R&D is aggregate data which subsumes the activities of many employees of a given company. Whether it means the company will grow really depends on what individual employees accomplish. When it come to software, the outcome will be notably different for R&D teams which play it safe versus ones which continually push the envelope of what may be remotely possible. Intellectual leverage is such that the cost of failure of 8 out of 10 ideas is far outweighed by success in only 1 or 2 of them. The presence of such loyal individuals is also a bulwark against hostile takeovers. You can lead a programmer to the R&D department, but you can’t make him plink – at least not in the way which is essential to success.

Perhaps most revealing about this unusual book is the ongoing critical self-examination engaged in by the primary author. These analyses were distilled into the form of internal company communications as essays and information letters.  At many points in the journey, the author is able to adumbrate the – sometimes previously un-articulable – principles which guided his often momentous insights. These usually arose in chaotic circumstances with incomplete information. The essential humility of this approach is demonstrated at various points in the book. Repeatedly, the author makes clear the importance of open communication and understanding of the roles of all the other parts of the company. A programmer, for example, must understand management’s plan, what customers want, how a product will be marketed and shipped, what competitors are doing, etc. Only then can a “wild talent” be effective.

 “The Autodesk File” is a much-needed reminder that human beings are still capable of doing awe-inspiring, creative and even noble things; that they can voluntarily collaborate and, working in their own self-interest, set off endless waves of non-zero sum games in their wakes. This is also a success story, then, a chain of decisions, clearly rooted in the philosophy of Classical Liberalism – in some of its untidy and altogether messy human details. Without aiming to, this story affirms the primacy and value of the individual, both as producer and consumer; it convincingly shows that communication – positive and negative feedback – between individual, voluntary buyers and sellers – is the essence of what a market is. This is in contrast to statist dirigisme, where aggregate data and arrogance rule, in derogation of the value of the individual. 

Diametrically opposed to today’s received collectivist wisdom, “The Autodesk File” shows how individuals create markets where none previously existed, to the betterment of all. From those roots emerge timeless operating principles: 1. build the best products, period – with open architecture so as to invite developers to customize and find as yet undreamed uses (an essential form of feedback for software companies), thereby further expanding markets; 2. invite, quickly assess and respond to this feedback from customers in the form of improved new releases; 3. employ owners, not merely ‘investors’ – pay well for results – with ownership whenever possible. This is a story which demonstrates the huge difference between owners, whose time preference is long and investors focused only on the forecast for the next fiscal quarter. The tyranny of industry analysts, a form of economic lunacy where short time preference is brutally and pervasively enforced on behalf of “investors,” operates so as to threaten the short-term existence of sound public companies which actually attempt to pursue the best long-term business practices.

In a somewhat philosophic interview around the tenth anniversary of Autodesk, the author/editor describes the operation of a new “design cult” of engineering as a “form of creationism, which thinks its members are so omniscient that they have no need for market-driven evolution to perfect their efforts.” This view, coupled with the information letters, again displays an essential humility in the ethos of Autodesk. Management must lead toward explicit goals. Every part of the organization must understand and communicate with all others, particularly as it affects product development. This is not the typical hierarchical corporate ethos. Neither is it anarchy. Management must lead, but not without listening, understanding and explaining. 

It is difficult for this writer to refrain from drawing parallels to the author’s description of this “design cult” of engineering. Such an attitude is not surprising, given that we live in a society which increasingly and officially denies the existence of a supreme being, while at the same time acting – through a “cult” of increasingly centralized authoritarian government – as though it were omniscient and omnipotent; as though its policies have no unintended consequences; as though no cost is too high to accomplish its goals, whose only feedback is its own reverberating positive-feedback echo chamber. It is hard to know which cult is imitating which. In either case, the state-erected obstacles to starting and running a business, while not emphasized, are on display in this epic. This common ethos of the state and large corporations has inevitably given us today’s pernicious corporatism.

It may be that the most significant intellectual error of our time is the belief that society can be modeled and manipulated as well as physical reality now can be, thanks in large part to private companies like Autodesk. Unlike government, though, companies are forced to relearn their limits – i.e., lessons in humility are given, at least annually, and enforced as necessary by balance sheets and owners. The fear of going out of business would be a highly salutary fear for modern government to experience. Instead of a healthy humility, however, the state often displays antipathy toward private enterprise – ironically, the very source of its own financial power. The public relations nature of this attitude  likely represents either envy of private successes and/or virtue signaling in an effort to garner votes in the incessant lust for yet more power.

God is traditionally described as a jealous God. Do you suppose that our deity/government has its own version of the Ten Commandments, the first of which explains its animus toward private enterprise? “Thou shalt have no other Gods before Me…” …otherwise put, “Trust me. I’m from the government.” “I’m here to protect you from those big, bad, corporations.”

Thus, as you may see for this reader, the story of Autodesk led to much contemplation of human nature and the whole spectrum our interactions – both voluntary and coercive. It is an inspiring and epic tale of the utility and nobility of voluntary cooperation.

“The Autodesk File” is in the public domain. It is available in several downloadable versions. All formats are accessible here: http://www.fourmilab.ch/autofile/


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The End Of The World As We Know It And I Feel Fine…

All this talk of where we are headed, the clashes of the parties, the globalists and the populists, urban versus rural, deplorables against the social Justice warriors, reminds me that we are experiencing not an evolution, or a change but a tectonic perception shift of how our human universe works.

The BBC ran an excellent series called “The Day The Universe Changed quite long ago, which in a number of individual hours, with wit and incredible visuals coupled with story telling relayed how a series of events set in motion a completely new way of thinking about the things we believe to be true.

I do believe we are entering such a time, where the commonly accepted worldview of globalists, a belief in the institutions of media, higher education, and the guiding hand of an elite corps of wise ones who can guide global affairs in money, culture, peace, medicine, and welfare is burning like the Hindenburg at Lakehurst New Jersey. Oh the humanity.

Is it nostalgic for a nation to shut down the means of production in the age of robotics? When labor cost in the manufacture of goods is not the determining location factor? Does a nation concentrate and protect necessary skills for the future which include manipulation of physical objects as well as digital ones?

Can a constitutional republic exist in a world where only 10% of the citizenry is gainfully employed? I think not.

The global elitist worldview of sending manufacturing elsewhere, increasing the cost of higher education, high taxes, massive regulation, concentration of finance into a few large institutions, concentration of entertainment and news media to a handful of companies, opening borders to drive low skilled wages down, importing talent to drive high value wages down, engaging in wars without intent for victory, setting up permanent trade disadvantages for the USA has been rolling along since the 1970s. There was a brief break for the Reagan years where the Cold war was scrapped despite the efforts of the globalists to keep it going.

That era formed the thinking of several generations of people in influential circles.

Then a man from Queens comes down an escalator and the Universe Changed.

Despite the best efforts of the old guard, the new Universe is on display and people will not go back to the old mode of thinking.

The early adopters are the small business owners who can move fast, reposition wealth from the stock market to new assets in an afternoon.

Blue Collar employees see a different world for their future.

Well managed States are being rewarded with investment and new people fleeing the poorly managed states.

Academia has managed to let millions of students run up over a trillion dollars in debt (majority of them are female) and granted a large percentage of degrees with almost no useful skills attached.

I do expect this cannot be sustained.

I cannot recall an event where so many institutions have shown themselves to be beyond a shadow of any doubt incompetent, corrupt and unaffordable.

The universe did change and it will be interesting to see how people adapt to the new reality.


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TFW My Next Novel Writes Itself

Now it’s possible to despise math and virtue signal simultaneously… It turns out that learning mathematics can cause “collateral damage” to society by training students in “ethics-free thought.”

The nature of pure of mathematics itself leads to styles of thinking that can be damaging when applied beyond mathematics to social and human issues.

Check it out…


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TOTD 31 May 2018: Longest Loser Tantrums Ever Continue

Hope you all enjoy the following as much as I did.  It reminds one of the perpetual arrogance of ignorance saluted by the Progressives, and at the same time, is educational.   A two-fer Thursday!  I have included the entire article for your reading pleasure.

Teacher Who Corrected Trump’s Grammar In Viral CNN, NYT Story Got Lots of Stuff Wrong

by Aaron Keller | 5:00 pm, May 29th, 2018

The retired English teacher who “corrected” a now-viral letter from President Donald J. Trump and who then returned the “corrected” letter to the White House could perhaps use some schooling on the way the law works. In correcting Trump’s letter, the teacher marked something incorrect which was actually correct — legally speaking. (While we’re at it, the grammatical errors weren’t really errors, either; indeed, the letter was more correct than the teacher thinks.)

The teacher, Yvonne Mason, received the letter from the Trump White House in response to a letter she sent to President Trump. Her original letter raised concerns about the Parkland, Florida school shooting and asked President Trump to visit the families of those who died in the massacre. Perturbed by what she claimed was sloppy grammar in the rare return letter from the president, she posted her “corrected” letter to Facebook. It initially made the pages of her local paper, then the New York Times. She appeared on CNN on Monday to continue her jabs. There, she said the letter deserved a grade of “D.” She also opined that while the letter was probably written by staffers, the president signed it. (Has she ever heard of Autopen?) (WATCH the interview here.)

Here is the legal issue we noticed:  in his letter to the teacher, President Trump references a number of laws which he seeks to change or which he did change in response to the Parkland shooting. He also references a “rule.” Confused, the teacher circled “rule,” put a question mark in the margin, and said, “explain ‘rule.’”

That sound you just heard is me slamming my head against the desk at which I’m sitting.

There is a hierarchy of laws under the American system of government. The Constitution is the supreme law of the land. It sets forth three branches of government:  executive (which enforces the laws); legislative (which writes the laws); and judicial (which interprets the laws). Here’s the thing:  the branches each basically write their own “laws” which play off of one another. So, really, there is more than one type of “law.” The president’s letter accurately notes this. The teacher appears to be confused by it.

Perhaps the English teacher could benefit by calling up her social studies buddies for a primer. When most people reference federal “law,” what they really mean are the statutes written by the Senate and the House of Representatives. Executive branch agencies, such as the Environmental Protection Agency, the Department of Labor, etc., etc., etc., which are constitutionally attached to the president, have “rulemaking authority” to write “rules” which expound upon the more rough parameters set forth by the legislature in statutes. Lest we forget, the hierarchy, in descending order, contains all sorts of laws: the Constitution, statutes, administrative rules (which have the “force of law”), and judicial opinions (which — oh no! — have their own hierarchy, too!). What about the opinions of administrative law judges who work for executive branch agencies authorized by congress but constitutionally attached to the president? Gosh, this gets complicated, and we haven’t even gotten into city ordinances or state statutes.

Trump’s letter accurately differentiates between “rules” and “laws.” The teacher’s question mark response suggests either (1) she just doesn’t get the concepts I just painstakingly explained; or (2) if she does get it, she wants her “student” — President Trump — to explain it to her solely to prove that he knows it as well. The second tactic is ridiculous given the Trump letter’s careful differentiation between the two. He gets it. My guess is that she does not.

Thus concludes the lesson about legal hierarchy. There’s more, which I’ll address briefly.

The teacher told CNN she was most “appalled” by the “random capitalization of words that typically aren’t capitalized.” In the letter, the word “Nation” is frequently capitalized. When CNN pointed Ms. Mason to the fact that the government has its own stylebook, Ms. Mason botched the answer by flipping the script and pretty much claiming she was the authority: “My philosophy as a teacher is if we aren’t teaching this in the classroom, then why are we using it in a stylebook.” She then went on to entirely misinterpret the rule being applied.

Under the Government Printing Office’s stylebook, available here, Rule 3.20 on page 32 and the example on page 68 clearly state that “Nation” is capitalized in federal publications where the word is used as a replacement for the proper name of the country.

Rather than take the time to pull out her own stylebook(s), Ms. Mason confused that rule with the one for proper nouns, which in the stylebook is a totally different rule, and accused Trump of engaging in a “grammatical tragedy of the commons” where people start “randomly deciding which words are proper nouns and which aren’t.”

The teacher said her dream was “clear communication.”

“Communicate clearly what you want, and you’re more likely to get it because language is the currency of power.” (That’s a grammatically-incorrect sentence, Ms. Mason; plus, the stylebook clearly communicates what it wants.)

Hopefully, Ms. Mason taught her students that the rules change depending on the intended vehicle of publication:  the MLA, APA, and Chicago Manuals of Style are not the end of the stylebook world. The legal profession uses the Bluebook for citations, the Chicago Manual of Style where the Bluebook is silent, and the Redbook for other grammatical guidance. Reporters use the Associated Press Stylebook. The Government Printing Office has its own stylebook. Guess what? President Barack Obama followed it when he also capitalized words like “Nation” in his own letters (examples are hereherehere, and here). So did Michelle Obama (here). We are not certain whether Ms. Mason plans to spend her retirement correcting the Obamas, too.

Having been schooled by and having worked with both good and bad educators over the years, I am well versed in the sorts of histrionic fits some educators can get themselves into while defending their perceived entitlements to paychecks. If Ms. Mason gives President Trump a “D” on grammar and communication, I give her an “F” on defending her rationale for her judgment.

Aaron Keller is a live, streaming trial host for the Law&Crime Network. He is licensed to practice law in two states and served as a professor of English and communications for several years before joining Law&Crime. Follow him on Twitter:  @AKellerLawCrime.

This is an opinion piece. The views expressed in this article are those of just the author.

https://lawandcrime.com/crazy/teacher-who-corrected-trumps-grammar-in-viral-cnn-nyt-story-got-lots-of-stuff-wrong/


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