Water Displacement, 40th formula

Tuesday, July 14th, 2015

WD-40 has an interesting history:

WD-40 was developed in 1953 by Norm Larsen, founder of the Rocket Chemical Company, in San Diego, California. WD-40, abbreviated from the phrase “Water Displacement, 40th formula”, was originally designed to repel water and prevent corrosion, and later was found to have numerous household uses.

Larsen was attempting to create a formula to prevent corrosion in nuclear missiles, by displacing the standing water that causes it. He claims he arrived at a successful formula on his 40th attempt. WD-40 is primarily composed of various hydrocarbons.

WD-40 was first used by Convair to protect the outer skin and, more importantly, the paper-thin balloon tanks of the Atlas missile from rust and corrosion. These stainless steel fuel tanks were so thin that, when empty, they had to be kept inflated with nitrogen gas to prevent their collapse.

WD-40 first became commercially available on store shelves in San Diego, California in 1958.

Why The Next Sports Empire Will Be Built On eSports

Tuesday, June 30th, 2015

So-called eSports tournaments are reaching audiences of tens of millions:

Last year’s League of Legends championship, for example, drew nearly 30 million viewers, putting it in line with the combined viewership of the 2014 MLB and NBA finals, or the series finales of Breaking Bad and Two and a Half Men, plus the Season 4 finale of Game of Thrones. As with most sports, competitive gaming is now firmly entrenched in the US college system. The country’s largest collegiate league counts more than 10,000 active players, some of whom are on full athletic scholarships. Eager to capitalize on growing interest in the sport, Major League Gaming (MLG) opened the first dedicated domestic eSports arena in October 2014, and major brands such as Ford, American Express and Coke have begun forming partnerships with game developers, teams, players, event organizers and video distributors. What’s more, the US Department of State has been issuing athlete visas to competitive gamers since 2013.

[...]

In March 2015, Twitch averaged more than 600,000 simultaneous viewers, reached an audience of 51M worldwide and delivered more than 26B minutes of video entertainment. On a domestic basis, 11B minutes were watched in March – representing roughly 14 hours for each of the 13M American viewers. This consumption is so great that Twitch is already larger than 70% of American television networks, as well as Amazon’s own OTT video service.

However, the value of this consumption isn’t just its magnitude. An estimated 70% of all viewers are under the age of 35, making Twitch’s audience both highly valuable to advertisers and hard to reach via traditional television. Moreover, eSports fans, unlike linear TV viewers, are highly engaged in the content. Major League Gaming, for instance, consistently beats the industry average on key digital ad metrics such as completion rates (90% vs. 72%), click-through rates (4% vs. 2%), and ad viewability (99% vs. 44%). What’s more, Twitch shows little sign of slowing down. Total minutes delivered (both domestic and abroad) have grown by an average of 7% each month for the past three years, while per viewer consumption has doubled over that same period.

[...]

Despite ever-growing consumer interest and potential, eSports are still far from becoming an industry. In 2014, eSports generated less than $200M in revenue worldwide, including sponsorship, advertising, licensing, ticket sales and game-publisher investment according to Newzoo. By comparison, the US-only NFL and MLB gross roughly $10 billion a year each, while the European professional soccer/football leagues generate close to $21 billion.

Even as eSports tournaments have proliferated and audiences have expanded into the millions, the value of these tournaments continues to languish. The average event offers only $18,000 in total prize winnings (a figure almost unchanged from 1998) and 2014’s 1,990 tournaments handed out a relatively unimpressive $35M collectively. The largest prize pool did surge in 2014, from $3M to $11M, but only five players made more than $1M during the year. The remaining 6,200 e-athletes took home an average of $7,000.

Moneyball for Life

Monday, June 29th, 2015

Michael Lewis (Moneyball) pens an imaginary letter from Harvard Admissions to the Harvard Management Company about what traits predict whether a student will accumulate a Wall Street fortune — and then share it with the school:

Self-importance. The odds that a child will make outlandish sums of money when he grows up turns out to be strongly correlated with his willingness to challenge adult authority when that authority does not give him exactly what he wants. At bottom, he does not accept any authority higher than himself.

An extreme need for external validation. By sifting teacher recommendations for such phrases as “intellectual passion” and “an ability to lose himself in a subject,” and avoiding the students so described, we can locate those students most likely to have achieved high grades for the so-called wrong reasons. Above all we will seek to avoid students who think they have some “calling,” as they are anathema to Harvard’s mission.

The X factor. It consists, in part, of the ability to seem to be a selfless collaborator while in fact acting in a narrowly selfish manner.

We in admissions can almost hear you in Harvard Management thinking: It’s all well and good to find future billionaires, but that is only half the battle. How do we persuade them to share their fortune with Harvard? Herein lies the beauty of our algorithm. The very qualities in children most likely to lead them to great financial fortune also render them predisposed, as adults, to giving those fortunes to rich universities, instead of, say, charitable organizations that actually need the money. They weren’t put on earth to alleviate human suffering, or to make it a different and better place. They were put on earth to erect a building with their name on it, in a place it can be seen and admired by other people like them!

Harvard has already performed this analysis, Steve Sailer says:

The reason Harvard is still Harvard is because they invested a lot of talent in the 20th Century into statistical analyses of whom to admit.

Years ago, an anonymous commenter at iSteve asserted that he had held this exact job of moneyballing which kind of students were likely to donate to the Famous University. And his models confirmed what you’d expect: the people most likely to write checks with a lot of digits to the alma mater are the ones the college would prefer not to admit if they weren’t so generous: white, male, jockish, legacy, fratty, and relatively conservative politically. He said the college would never admit this publicly, but the administration is very aware of the stats of who gives and who doesn’t.

All Confederate Flags Must Go

Thursday, June 25th, 2015

Apple has pulled everything from the App Store that features a Confederate flag, regardless of context. That includes all Civil War games.

Precisely the Wrong Stuff

Wednesday, June 24th, 2015

A key principle of human factors is that it is the unspoken rules of who can say what and when that often lead to crucial things going unsaid:

If we don’t like to think that doctors make mistakes, doctors like to think about it even less.

One of the biggest problems identified was the unwritten but entrenched hierarchy of hospitals. Bromiley, who has worked with experts from various “safety-critical” industries, including the military, told me that the hospital is by far the most hierarchical workplace he has come across. At the top of the tree are consultant surgeons, the rock stars of the hospital corridors: highly driven, competitive, mostly male and not the kind who enjoy confessing to uncertainty. Then come anaesthetists, often quieter of disposition and warier of risk. Further down are nurses, valued for their hard work but not for their brains.

A key principle of human factors is that it is the unspoken rules of who can say what and when that often lead to crucial things going unsaid. The most painful part of the transcript of Flight 173’s final hour is the flight engineer’s interjections. You can sense his concern about the fuel situation, and his hesitancy about expressing it. Fifteen minutes is gonna – really run us low on fuel here. Perhaps he’s assuming the captain and his officers know the urgency of their predicament. Perhaps he’s worried about being seen to speak out of turn. Whatever it is, he doesn’t say what he feels: This is an emergency. We need to get this plane on the ground – NOW. Similarly, the nurses who could see the urgency of Elaine Bromiley’s condition didn’t feel able to tell the doctors that they were on the verge of committing a grave error. So they made tentative suggestions that were easy to ignore.

John Pickles, an ENT surgeon and former medical director of Luton and Dunstable Hospital NHS Foundation Trust, told me that usually when an operation is carried out on the wrong part of the body (a class of error known as “wrong-site surgery”), there is at least one person in the room who knows or suspects a mistake is being made. He recalled the case of a patient in South Wales who had the wrong kidney removed. A (female) medical student had pointed out the impending error but the two (male) surgeons ignored her and carried on. The patient, who was 70 years old, was left with one diseased kidney, and died six weeks later. In other cases nobody spoke up at all.

The pioneers of crew resource management knew that merely warning pilots about fixation error was not sufficient. It is too powerful an instinct to be repressed entirely even when you know about it. The answer lay with the crew. Because even the most experienced captains are prone to human error, the entire aircraft crew needed to act as a collective intelligence, vigilant for problems and responsible for solutions. “It’s the people at the edge of the room, standing back from the situation, who can often see it best,” Bromiley said to me.

He recalled the case of British Midland Flight 92, which had just taken off for its flight from London to Belfast on 8 January 1989 when the pilots discovered one of the engines was on fire. Following procedure, they shut it down. Over the PA, the captain explained that because of a problem with the right engine he was making an emergency landing. The cabin staff, who – like the passengers, but unlike the cockpit crew – could see smoke and flames coming from the left engine, didn’t pass this information on to the cockpit. After the pilots shut down the only functioning engine, British Midland 92 crashed into the embankment of the M1 motorway near Kegworth in Leicestershire. Forty-seven of the 126 people on board died; 74 sustained serious injuries.

The airline industry pinpointed a major block to communication among members of the cockpit crew: the captain. The rank of captain retained the aura of imperial command it inherited from the military and from the early days of flying, when pilots such as Chuck Yeager, immortalised in Tom Wolfe’s book The Right Stuff, were celebrated as audacious mavericks. The pioneers of CRM realised that, in the age of mass air travel, charismatic heroism was precisely the wrong stuff. The industry needed team players. The captain’s aura was a force field, stopping other crew members from speaking their mind at critical moments. It wasn’t just the instrument panel that had to change: it was the culture of the cockpit.

Long before they started doing more good than harm, surgeons were revered as men of genius. In the 18th and 19th centuries, surgical superstars performed operations in packed amphitheatres before hushed, admiring audiences. A great surgeon was a virtuoso performer with the hands of a god. His nurses and assistants were present merely to follow the great man’s commands, much as the planets in an orrery revolve around the sun. The advent of medical science gave this myth a grounding in reality: at least we can be confident that doctors today make people better, most of the time. But it reinforced a mystique that makes doctors, and especially surgeons (who, of course, still perform in operating theatres), hard to question, by either patients or staff.

Better safety involves bringing doctors off their pedestal or, rather, inviting them to step down from it. Modern medicine is more reliant than ever on teamwork. As operations become more complex, more people and procedures are involved. Operating rooms swarm with people; various specialists pronounce judgement or perform procedures, and then leave. Surgical teams are often comprised of individuals who know each other only vaguely, if at all. It is a simple but unavoidable truth that the more people are involved in something, and the less well they know each other, the more likely it is that someone will make an error.

The most significant human factors innovation in health care in recent years is surprisingly prosaic: the checklist. Borrowed from the airline industry, the checklist is a standardised list of procedures to follow for every operation, and for every eventuality. Checklists compensate for the inbuilt tendency of human beings under stress to forget or ignore what is important, including the most basic things (the first item on one aviation checklist is FLY THE AIRPLANE). They also empower the people at the edges of the room: before the operation and at key moments during it, the whole team goes through each point in turn, including emergencies, which gives a cue to more reserved members of the team to speak up.

Checklists are most effective in an atmos­phere of informality and openness: it has been shown that simply using the first name of the other team members improves communication, and that giving people a chance to say something at the beginning of a case makes them more likely to speak up during the operation itself.

Naturally, this spirit of openness entails a diminishment of the surgeon’s power – or a dispersal of that power around the team. Some doctors don’t mind this – indeed, they welcome it, because they realise that their team can save them from career-ruining mistakes. Others are more resistant, particularly those who treasure their independence; mavericks don’t do checklists. Even those who see themselves as evolved team players may overestimate their openness. J Bryan Sexton, a psychologist at Johns Hopkins University in the US, has conducted global surveys of operating-room staff. He found that while 64 per cent of surgeons rated their operations as having high levels of teamwork, only 28 per cent of nurses agree.

Fixation Error

Tuesday, June 23rd, 2015

In a crisis, the brain’s perceptual field narrows and shortens:

We become seized by a tremendous compulsion to fix on the problem we think we can solve, and quickly lose awareness of almost everything else. It’s an affliction to which even the most skilled and experienced professionals are prone.

Imagine a stalled car, stuck on a level crossing as a distant train bears down on it. Panic rising, the driver starts and restarts the engine rather than getting out of the car and running. The three doctors bent over Elaine Bromiley’s throat were intent on finding a way to intubate, just as the three pilots in the cockpit of United 173 were determined to establish the status of the landing gear. In neither case did these seasoned professionals look up and register the oncoming train: in the case of Elaine, her oxygen levels, and in the case of United 173, its fuel levels.

When people are fixating, their perception of time becomes highly erratic; minutes stretch and elongate. One of the most striking aspects of the transcript of United 173’s last minutes is the way the captain seems to be under the impression that he has plenty of time, right up until the moment the engines cut out. It’s not that he didn’t have the correct information; it’s that his brain was running to a different clock. Similarly, it’s not that the doctors weren’t aware that Elaine Bromiley’s oxygen supply was a problem; it’s that their sense of how long she had been without it was distorted. When Harmer interviewed him, the anaesthetic consultant confessed that he had no idea how much time had passed.

Imagine, for a moment, being one of those doctors. You have a patient who has stopped breathing. The clock is ticking. The standard procedure isn’t working, but you have employed it dozens of times before and you know it works. Each of the senior colleagues around you is experiencing the same difficulty, which reassures you. You cling to the belief that, between the three of you, you will solve the problem, if it is soluble at all. You vaguely register nurses coming into the room and saying things but you don’t really hear what they say. Perhaps it occurs to you to step back from the patient and demand a rethink, but you don’t want your peers to see you as panicky or naive. So you focus on the one thing you can control: the procedure. You repeat it over and over, hoping for a different result. It is madness, but it is comprehensible madness.

Crew Resource Management

Monday, June 22nd, 2015

The story of United Airlines Flight 173 is known to every airline pilot, because it is studied by every trainee:

Shortly after 5pm on the clear-skied evening of 28 December 1978, United Airlines Flight 173 began its descent to Portland International Airport. The plane had taken off from New York that morning and, after making a pre-scheduled stop in Denver, it was reaching its final destination with 189 souls on board.

As the landing gear was lowered there was a loud thump and the aircraft yawed slightly to the right. The flight crew noticed that one of the green landing gear indicator lights wasn’t lit. The captain radioed air-traffic control at Portland, telling them, “We’ve got a gear problem.”

Portland’s control agreed that the plane would orbit the airport while the captain, first officer and second officer worked out what to do. The passengers were told that there would be a delay. The cabin crew began to carry out checks. The flight attendants were instructed to check the visual indicators on the wings, which suggested that the landing gear was locked down.

Nearly half an hour after the captain told Portland about the landing gear problem, he contacted the United Airlines maintenance centre, informing the staff there that he intended to continue the holding pattern for another 15 or 20 minutes. He reported 7,000lbs of fuel aboard, down from 13,000 when he had first spoken to Portland.

United’s controller sounded a mild note of concern. “You estimate that you’ll make a landing about five minutes past the hour. Is that OK?” The captain’s response was ostentatiously relaxed: “Yeah, that’s a good ball park. I’m not gonna hurry the girls [the cabin crew].” United 173 had 30 minutes of fuel left.

The captain and his two officers continued to debate the question of whether the landing gear was down. The captain asked his crew how much fuel they would have left after another 15 minutes of flying. The flight engineer responded, “Not enough. Fifteen minutes is gonna – really run us low on fuel here.” At 18.07 one of the plane’s engines lost power. Six minutes later, the flight engineer reported that both engines were gone. The captain, as if waking up to the situation for the first time, said: “They’re all going. We can’t make Troutdale [a small airport on the approach route to Portland].” “We can’t make anything,” said the first officer. At 18.13, the first officer sent the plane’s final message to air-traffic control: “We’re going down. We’re not going to be able to make the airport.”

[...]

It’s a miracle that only ten people were killed after Flight 173 crashed into an area of woodland in suburban Portland; but the crash needn’t have happened at all. Had the captain attempted to land, the plane would have touched down safely: the subsequent investigation found that the landing gear had been down the whole time. But the captain and officers of Flight 173 became so engrossed in one puzzle that they became blind to the more urgent problem: fuel shortage. This is called “fixation error”.

This led the industry to create a set of principles and procedures known as CRM, or Crew Resource Management:

CRM was born of a realisation that in the late 20th century the most frequent cause of crashes wasn’t technical failure, but human error. Its roots go back to the Second World War, when the US army assigned a psychologist called Alphonse Chapanis to investigate a curious phenomenon. B-17 bombers kept crashing on to the runway on landing, even though there were no apparent mechanical problem with the planes. Rather than blaming the pilots, Chapanis pointed to the instrument panel. The lever to control the landing gear and the lever that operated the flaps were next to each other. Pilots, weary after long flights, were confusing the two, retracting the wheels and causing the crash. Chapanis suggested attaching a wheel to the handle of the landing lever and a triangle to the flaps lever, making each easily distinguishable by touch alone. Problem solved.

Chapanis had recognised that human beings’ propensity to make mistakes when they are tired is much harder to fix than the design of levers. His deeper insight was that people have limits, and many of their mistakes are predictable effects of those limits. That is why the architects of CRM defined its aim as the reduction of human error, rather than pilot error. Rather than trying to hire or train perfect pilots, it is better to design systems that minimise or mitigate inevitable human mistakes.

In the 1990s, a cognitive psychologist called James Reason turned this principle into a theory of how accidents happen in large organisations. When a space shuttle crashes or an oil tanker leaks, our instinct is to look for a single, “root” cause. This often leads us to the operator: the person who triggered the disaster by pulling the wrong lever or entering the wrong line of code. But the operator is at the end of a long chain of decisions, some of them taken that day, some taken long in the past, all contributing to the accident; like achievements, accidents are a team effort. Reason proposed a “Swiss cheese” model: accidents happen when a concatenation of factors occurs in unpredictable ways, like the holes in a block of cheese lining up.

James Reason’s underlying message was that because human beings are fallible and will always make operational mistakes, it is the responsibility of managers to ensure that those mistakes are anticipated, planned for and learned from. Without seeking to do away altogether with the notion of culpability, he shifted the emphasis from the flaws of individuals to flaws in organisation, from the person to the environment, and from blame to learning.

The science of “human factors” now permeates the aviation industry.

Doctors Make Mistakes

Sunday, June 21st, 2015

Airline pilot Martin Bromiley’s wife died during routine surgery to fix a deviated septum that was causing sinus trouble, and he assumed that the next step would be an investigation:

“You get an independent team in. You investigate. You learn.” When he asked the head of the intensive-care unit about this, the doctor shook his head. “That’s not how we do things in the health service. Not unless somebody complains or sues.”

This doctor was privately sympathetic to Bromiley’s question, however. Shortly after Elaine’s death, he got in touch with Bromiley to say that he had asked a friend of his, Professor Michael Harmer, an eminent anaesthetist, if he would be prepared to lead an investigation. Harmer had said yes. After Bromiley gained the hospital’s consent, Harmer set to work, interviewing everyone involved, from the consultants to the nursing team.

[...]

The truth was that Elaine had died at the hands of highly accomplished, technically proficient doctors with 60 years of experience between them, in a fine, well-equipped modern hospital, because of a simple error.

[...]

Doctors make mistakes. A woman undergoing surgery for an ectopic pregnancy had the wrong tube removed, rendering her infertile. Another had her Fallopian tube removed instead of her appendix. A cardiac operation was performed on the wrong patient. Some 69 patients left surgery with needles, swabs or, in one case, a glove left inside them. These are just some of the incidents that occurred in English hospitals in the six months between April and September 2013.

[...]

The National Audit Office estimates that there may be 34,000 deaths annually as a result of patient safety incidents. When he was medical director, Liam Donaldson warned that the chances of dying as a result of a clinical error in hospital are 33,000 times higher than dying in an air crash. This isn’t a problem peculiar to our health-care system. In the United States, errors are estimated to be the third most common cause of deaths in health care, after cancer and heart disease. Globally, there is a one-in-ten chance that, owing to preventable mistakes or oversights, a patient will leave a hospital in a worse state than when she entered it.

[...]

Within two minutes of Elaine Bromiley’s operation beginning, the anaesthetic consultant realised that the patient’s airway had collapsed, hindering her supply of oxygen. After repeatedly trying and failing to ventilate the airway, he issued a call for help. An ENT surgeon answered it, as did another senior anaesthetist. The three consultants struggled to get a tube down Elaine’s throat, a procedure known as intubation, but encountered a mysterious blockage. So they tried again.

“Can’t ventilate, can’t intubate” is a recognised emergency in anaesthetic practice, for which there are published guidelines. The first instruction in one version of the guidelines is this: “Do not waste time trying to intubate when the priority is oxygenation.” Deprived of oxygen, our brains soon find it hard to function, our hearts to beat: ten minutes is about the longest we can suffer such a shortage before irreversible damage is done. The recommended solution is to carry out a form of tracheotomy, puncturing the windpipe to allow air in. Do not waste time trying to intubate.

Twenty minutes after Elaine’s airway collapsed, the doctors were still trying to get a tube down her throat. The monitors indicated that her brain was starved of oxygen and her heart had slowed to a dangerously low rate. Her face was blue. Her arms periodically shot up to her face, a sign that brain tissue is being irritated. Yet the doctors ploughed on. After 25 minutes, they had finally intubated their patient. But that was too late for Elaine.

If the severity of Elaine’s condition in those crucial minutes wasn’t registered by the doctors, it was noticed by others in the room. The nurses saw Elaine’s erratic breathing; the blueness of her face; the swings in her blood pressure; the lowness of her oxygen levels and the convulsions of her body. They later said that they had been surprised when the doctors didn’t attempt to gain access to the trachea, but felt unable to broach the subject. Not directly, anyway: one nurse located a tracheotomy set and presented it to the doctors, who didn’t even acknowledge her. Another nurse phoned the intensive-care unit and told them to prepare a bed immediately. When she informed the doctors of her action they looked at her, she said later, as if she was overreacting.

Reading this, you may be incredulous and angry that the doctors could have been so stupid, or so careless. But when the person closest to this event, Martin Bromiley, read Harmer’s report, he responded very differently. His main sensation wasn’t shock, or fury. It was recognition.

Any pilot knows that smart people can make dumb mistakes that get people killed.

Geeks, MOPs, and Sociopaths

Wednesday, June 10th, 2015

Subculture evolution proceeds through geeks, MOPs, and sociopaths:

The birth of cool

Before there is a subculture, there is a scene. A scene is a small group of creators who invent an exciting New Thing — a musical genre, a religious sect, a film animation technique, a political theory. Riffing off each other, they produce examples and variants, and share them for mutual enjoyment, generating positive energy.

The new scene draws fanatics. Fanatics don’t create, but they contribute energy (time, money, adulation, organization, analysis) to support the creators.

Creators and fanatics are both geeks. They totally love the New Thing, they’re fascinated with all its esoteric ins and outs, and they spend all available time either doing it or talking about it.

If the scene is sufficiently geeky, it remains a strictly geek thing; a weird hobby, not a subculture.

If the scene is unusually exciting, and the New Thing can be appreciated without having to get utterly geeky about details, it draws mops.2 Mops are fans, but not rabid fans like the fanatics. They show up to have a good time, and contribute as little as they reasonably can in exchange.

Geeks welcome mops, at first at least. It’s the mass of mops who turn a scene into a subculture. Creation is always at least partly an act of generosity; creators want as many people to use and enjoy their creations as possible. It’s also good for the ego; it confirms that the New Thing really is exciting, and not just a geek obsession. Further, some money can usually be extracted from mops — just enough, at this stage, that some creators can quit their day jobs and go pro. (Fanatics contribute much more per head than mops, but there are few enough that it’s rarely possible for creatives to go full time with support only from fanatics.) Full-time creators produce more and better of the New Thing.

The mop invasion

Fanatics want to share their obsession, and mops initially validate it for them too. However, as mop numbers grow, they become a headache. Fanatics do all the organizational work, initially just on behalf of geeks: out of generosity, and to enjoy a geeky subsociety. They put on events, build websites, tape up publicity fliers, and deal with accountants. Mops just passively soak up the good stuff. You may even have to push them around the floor; they have to be led to the drink. At best you can charge them admission or a subscription fee, but they’ll inevitably argue that this is wrong because capitalism is evil, and they forgot their wallet.

Mops also dilute the culture. The New Thing, although attractive, is more intense and weird and complicated than mops would prefer. Their favorite songs are the ones that are least the New Thing, and more like other, popular things. Some creators oblige with less radical, friendlier, simpler creations.

Mops relate to each other in “normal” ways, like people do on TV, which the fanatics find repellent. During intermission, geeks want to talk about the New Thing, but mops blather about sportsball and celebrities. Also, the mops also seem increasingly entitled, treating the fanatics as service workers.

Fanatics may be generous, but they signed up to support geeks, not mops. At this point, they may all quit, and the subculture collapses.

The sociopath invasion

Unless sociopaths show up. A subculture at this stage is ripe for exploitation. The creators generate cultural capital, i.e. cool. The fanatics generate social capital: a network of relationships — strong ones among the geeks, and weaker but numerous ones with mops. The mops, when properly squeezed, generate financial capital, i.e. money. None of those groups have any clue about how to extract and manipulate any of those forms of capital.

The sociopaths quickly become best friends with selected creators. They dress just like the creators — only better. They talk just like the creators — only smoother. They may even do some creating — competently, if not creatively. Geeks may not be completely fooled, but they also are clueless about what the sociopaths are up to.

Mops are fooled. They don’t care so much about details, and the sociopaths look to them like creators, only better. Sociopaths become the coolest kids in the room, demoting the creators. At this stage, they take their pick of the best-looking mops to sleep with. They’ve extracted the cultural capital.

The sociopaths also work out how to monetize mops — which the fanatics were never good at. With better publicity materials, the addition of a light show, and new, more crowd-friendly product, admission fees go up tenfold, and mops are willing to pay. Somehow, not much of the money goes to creators. However, more of them do get enough to go full-time, which means there’s more product to sell.

The sociopaths also hire some of the fanatics as actual service workers. They resent it, but at least they too get to work full-time on the New Thing, which they still love, even in the Lite version. The rest of the fanatics get pushed out, or leave in disgust, broken-hearted.

The death of cool — unless…

After a couple years, the cool is all used up: partly because the New Thing is no longer new, and partly because it was diluted into New Lite, which is inherently uncool. As the mops dwindle, the sociopaths loot whatever value is left, and move on to the next exploit. They leave behind only wreckage: devastated geeks who still have no idea what happened to their wonderful New Thing and the wonderful friendships they formed around it. (Often the geeks all end up hating each other, due first to the stress of supporting mops, and later due to sociopath divide-and-conquer manipulation tactics.)

Unless some of the creators are geniuses. If they can give the New Thing genuine mass appeal, they can ascend into superstardom. The subculture will reorganize around them, into a much more durable form. I won’t go into that in this blog post. I will point out that this almost never happens without sociopaths. An ambitious creator may know they have mass-appeal genius, and could be a star, but very rarely do they know how to get from here to there.

Reverse Supply Chain

Monday, June 8th, 2015

Companies now spend an average of 8% to 10% of revenue maintaining reverse supply-chain functions — handling goods once they’re discarded:

LTG is hired by contract manufacturers and vendors of electronics and equipment to collect some 200,000 metric tons of e-waste a year to be destroyed — sometimes under careful watch of intellectual property owners — harvested for components, or broken down into raw materials for recycling.

It’s a complicated science. Some products need to be drilled full of holes before they’re discarded. Others are pulverized and sent to smelters so that valuable metals can be recovered. And different and changing regulations in various countries complicates the process, said Mark Majeske, head of Arrow Electronics Inc.’s global reverse logistics business.

[...]

Because equipment vendors no longer sell parts for equipment that is no longer in production, these parts can command higher prices than newer network components, providing a source of revenue for companies like LTG. The company also makes money from processing excess and obsolete parts that were produced by companies as a guard against shortages in the supply chain.

The afterlife of the components of increasingly complex consumer gadgets is rarely considered in design, the experts say, leaving supply chain and disposal experts to figure it out later.

[...]

Plastics are an extra complication. The plastic parts of cellphones today are often blended with carbon fiber or class fiber to make the devices lighter. Such materials can’t be broken down without information about the original compound, said Ms. Li, and so many such parts end up in landfills.

Ad Astra School

Sunday, May 31st, 2015

In an interview for Chinese television, Elon Musk mentions (at 24:45) that he created his own school to educate his five boys — and the children of other SpaceX employees, too:

Let it grow

Friday, May 29th, 2015

October is the 10th anniversary of Bob Iger’s appointment as Disney’s chief executive, a period that has been defined by acquisitions:

Mr Iger began putting the pieces in place for a Disney revival as soon he was told by the board that he would replace Mr Eisner, contacting Mr Jobs and expressing an interest in doing a deal. By January 2006, just three months after Mr Iger had started as chief executive, Disney bought Pixar in an all-stock deal worth $7.4bn. “I had this instinct that Pixar was the best way to fix and save Disney animation,” Mr Iger says.

[...]

The Pixar deal had big similarities with the two other landmark transactions of his tenure, Mr Iger says. As with Pixar, when Disney acquired Marvel and Lucasfilm it did not seek external advice from investment banks. Disney’s own corporate strategy unit, led by its top dealmaker Kevin Mayer, crunched the numbers, while Mr Iger made the approach and the pitch himself. “All three deals began with one-on-one discussions,” says Mr Iger. “I began each one pitching my heart out.”

[...]

Disney’s studio acquisitions have also been transformative for the three people who sold their companies to Disney. George Lucas, who sold the rights to the Star Wars franchise to Disney at the end of 2012, has generated a paper profit of $2.2bn on the shares he was given; Isaac “Ike” Perlmutter, the largest shareholder in Marvel Entertainment at the time of the sale, has earned a paper profit of $1.7bn. The biggest paper profit has been made by Laurene Powell Jobs, the widow of Steve Jobs. Mr Jobs was the majority shareholder in Pixar, which Disney acquired in an all-stock deal worth $7.4bn in 2006. Today the Jobs stake is worth about $14.3bn.

How to turn a liberal hipster into a capitalist tyrant in one evening

Thursday, May 28th, 2015

Zoe Svendsen’s “play” at the Young Vic, titled World Factory, is more of an eye-opening roleplaying game:

The choices were stark: sack a third of our workforce or cut their wages by a third. After a short board meeting we cut their wages, assured they would survive and that, with a bit of cajoling, they would return to our sweatshop in Shenzhen after their two-week break.

But that was only the start. In Zoe Svendsen’s play World Factory at the Young Vic, the audience becomes the cast. Sixteen teams sit around factory desks playing out a carefully constructed game that requires you to run a clothing factory in China. How to deal with a troublemaker? How to dupe the buyers from ethical retail brands? What to do about the ever-present problem of clients that do not pay? Because the choices are binary they are rarely palatable. But what shocked me – and has surprised the theatre – is the capacity of perfectly decent, liberal hipsters on London’s south bank to become ruthless capitalists when seated at the boardroom table.

The classic problem presented by the game is one all managers face: short-term issues, usually involving cashflow, versus the long-term challenge of nurturing your workforce and your client base. Despite the fact that a public-address system was blaring out, in English and Chinese, that “your workforce is your vital asset” our assembled young professionals repeatedly had to be cajoled not to treat them like dirt.

And because the theatre captures data on every choice by every team, for every performance, I know we were not alone. The aggregated flowchart reveals that every audience, on every night, veers towards money and away from ethics.

Svendsen says: “Most people who were given the choice to raise wages – having cut them – did not. There is a route in the decision-tree that will only get played if people pursue a particularly ethical response, but very few people end up there. What we’ve realised is that it is not just the profit motive but also prudence, the need to survive at all costs, that pushes people in the game to go down more capitalist routes.”

This appears to be a revelation to the people involved.

In short, many people have no idea what running a business actually means in the 21st century. Yes, suppliers — from East Anglia to Shanghai — will try to break your ethical codes; but most of those giant firms’ commitment to good practice, and environmental sustainability, is real. And yes, the money is all important. But real businesses will take losses, go into debt and pay workers to stay idle in order to maintain the long-term relationships vital in a globalised economy.

Naturally the Guardian turns this into a call for more regulation.

Elon Musk Quotes

Tuesday, May 12th, 2015

These memorable quotes from Elon Musk: Tesla, SpaceX, and the Quest for a Fantastic Future do paint an interesting picture:

We’re all hanging out in this cabana at the Hard Rock Cafe, and Elon is there reading some obscure Soviet rocket manual that was all moldy and looked like it had been bought on eBay.” — Kevin Hartz, an early PayPal investor, describing an outing in Las Vegas that was intended as a time to celebrate the company’s success.

That is no excuse. I am extremely disappointed. You need to figure out where your priorities are. We’re changing the world and changing history, and you either commit or you don’t.” — an anonymous Tesla employee recalling an e-mail from Musk after missing an event to witness the birth of his child.

They got my best [expletive] friend to lure me out of hiding so they could beat me up. And that [expletive] hurt.” — Elon Musk, who said he was hospitalized after one beating and couldn’t return to school for a week. He was living with his father, who was said to delight in being hard on his sons.

He goes into his brain, and then you just see he is in another world. He still does that. Now I just leave him be because I know he is designing a new rocket or something.” — Elon Musk’s mother describing how as a child Elon sometimes seemed to drift off into trances. He wouldn’t respond when spoken to and would have a distant look in his eyes. Musk’s parents and physicians thought maybe he was deaf and removed his adenoid glands thinking that would improve his hearing. It made no difference.

I wanted him to meet me behind security so he couldn’t pack a gun.” — Jim Cantrell, describing his first meeting with Elon Musk. Cantrell was once accused of espionage by Russians, so he was fearful when he received a call from a stranger with an accent asking to help him with a space program. They met in an airport, hit it off, and would later travel to Russia hoping to buy rockets.

If that “no excuse” note seems over the top, that may be because it never happened. Elon Musk replied:

I have never written or said this. Ashlee’s book was not independently fact-checked. Should be taken w a grain of salt.

Internet of Things Reaches Into the Trucking Business

Tuesday, May 5th, 2015

The so-called Internet of Things has reached the trucking business:

“It used to be, in our industry, for us to find out what happened with a driver and with a vehicle we had to wait for them to come back to the office,” Brian Balius, Saia VP of transportation, said in an interview. “Now we can see these things happening all day long — as they occur.” In its first year, the program led to a 6% increase in fuel efficiency, which translated to $15 million in savings for Saia. The company said it paid for itself.