MonthApril 2012

Overtime Kills Productivity

I wrote a long article for SiliconAngle on research into overtime and the 40 hour work week. It turns out that in most cases overtime and lack of sleep do more harm than good:

Facebook COO Sharyl Sandberg has kicked up a mini-controversy by admitting to Makers.com that she leaves the office at 5:30PM every day, and has done so for years. In the Valley, where work is a religion, leaving early is heresy.

Earlier this week “Jon” published The 501 Developer Manifesto, a call for developers to spend less time working.These calls for less time at the office are counter balanced by a recent talk by Google executive Marissa Mayer at an 92|Y event. Mayer dismissed the phenomena of “burn out” as resentment and boasted of working 130 hours a week at times.

Research suggests that Sandberg is probably the more productive executive, and those 501ers may be on to something. In a lengthy essay titled “Bring back the 40-hour work week,” Alternet editor Sara Robinson looks at the history of long working hours and reminds us why the 40 hour limit was imposed in the first place: working more than 40 hours a week has been shown to be counterproductive. It’s a relevant conversation for IT workers, who according to ComputerWorld average 71 hours of work per week.

DevOpsAngle: What Research Says About Working Long Hours

Is Punning a Disease?

Last year author Douglas Coupland predicted that within the next 10 years: “We will still be annoyed by people who pun, but we will be able to show them mercy because punning will be revealed to be some sort of connectopathic glitch: The punner, like someone with Tourette’s, has no medical ability not to pun.”

Turns out some researchers already think “bad humor,” including excessive punning, is a disease. MSNBC reports:

Witzelsucht (the Germans just have the best words for everything, don’t they?) is a brain dysfunction that causes all sorts of compulsive silliness: bad jokes, corny puns, wacky behavior. It’s also sometimes called the “joking disease,” and as Taiwanese researchers phrased it in a 2005 report, it’s a “tendency to tell inappropriate and poor jokes.” We’ve covered all sorts of strange disorders of the mind in earlier Body Odd posts: one disorder makes you believe your loved ones are strangers, another convinces you that your hand has taken on a life of its own. Now, we give you a brain disorder that actually causes a poor sense of humor.

MSNBC: No pun intended: ‘Joking disease’ is no joke

The Psychology of False Confessions

The New Yorks Times ran a story on the psychology of false confessions. Here’s an excerpt, but the whole thing is worth reading:

If you have never been tortured, or locked up and verbally threatened, you may find it hard to believe that anyone would confess to something he had not done. Intuition holds that the innocent do not make false confessions. What on earth could be the motive? To stop the abuse? To curry favor with the interrogator? To follow some fragile thread of imaginary hope that cooperation will bring freedom?

Yes, all of the above. Psychological studies of confessions that have proved false show an overrepresentation of children, the mentally ill and mentally retarded, and suspects who are drunk or high. They are susceptible to suggestion, eager to please authority figures, disconnected from reality or unable to defer gratification. Children often think, as Felix did, that they will be jailed if they keep up their denials and will get to go home if they go along with interrogators. Mature adults of normal intelligence have also confessed falsely after being manipulated. […]

In experiments and in interrogation rooms, adults who are told convincing fictions have become susceptible to memories of things that never happened. Rejecting their own recollections through what psychologists call “memory distrust syndrome,” they are tricked by phony evidence into accepting their own fabrications of guilt — an “internalized false confession.”

That is what happened to a shaken Martin Tankleff, and although he quickly recanted, as if coming out of a spell, he was convicted and drew 50 years to life. He spent 17 years in prison before winning an appeal based on new evidence that pointed to three ex-convicts. But they have never been tried. Whoever killed the Tankleffs remains at large.

New York Times: Why Do Innocent People Confess?

(via Social Physicist)

Another Brandon Graham Interview

Brandon Graham self-portrait
Above: “The Current State of Me” by Brandon Graham

Great interview with Brandon Graham by Gavin Lees, where Graham talks about the origins of King City and whether there will ever be a follow-up:

I began working at The Strand bookstore in Manhattan, unloading trucks and everything. That’s when I started King City, only at the time it was called Cat Master. I just drew it entirely for myself. I drew the first 40 pages on my lunch breaks, not even planning, just doing it page-by-page. I remember I had a rule that I would tell myself, that if there was another element that didn’t advance the plot, then that’s what I needed to spend the most amount of time and pages on. If something advanced the plot, then I wanted to ignore that as much as possible and get it out the way. […]

Yeah, the book feels very free — very creatively liberated. Was there ever a worry that people wouldn’t get it, and Tokyopop would tell you to rein that in and make it more conventional — put all the things that advance the plot back in?

BG: Actually, Tokyopop was doing that the whole time. I think that it pushed me to develop what King City was even more, because they would bring up these things like, “What’s this character’s motivation? What’s this?” It just made me react the opposite direction. I always joke about this one thing when this guy called up — this is when it was getting really autobiographical — and he’s just like, “What’s Joe doing? The guy’s a total loser! What’s he going to do with his life? We need to give him an arc where he becomes a better person in the end.” And I was thinking, “I’m not going to become a better person by the time I finish this book!” [Laughter] I think it’s disingenuous to think that the characters have to change in 200 pages. It’s cool if they do, and maybe there is some character change in that, but I certainly didn’t want to force it.

In the second half of the book, I actually had a really good editor at Tokyopop, this guy Troy Lewter who had read the first one as an assistant editor, and then they moved him over. The first editor I had — whose name I never remember — was really difficult. I remember we got nominated for an Eisner and he didn’t care. He was like, “Eisners won’t sell books.” But Troy was fantastic to work with because he had a different take on it, he was throwing these basic plot-points at me, and I came up with so many great ideas with him being like, “What about this?” and it gave me an understanding of what the reader might expect in a standard adventure story. Also, a fantastic thing is reading people’s reaction to the book, and reviews, and what they expect to see next. I read some comment online where somebody said, “Oh, I can’t wait to see where Cat Masters come from!” and it had never occurred to me to show that. So, I started the second half of the series with that because I was like, “Oh shit!” and I was really happy with that and it would never have come out of my own head.

Bleeding Cool: Brandon Graham – Manga In The Microwave

5 Careers Expected to Have Shortages in the Next Decade

For a report titled “An economy that works: Job creation and America’s future,” McKinsey Global Instititute conducted research that included sector analysis, interviews with human resource executives, a survey of business leaders and the firm’s own scenario analysis and modeling.

According to McKinsey, the U.S would need to create 21 million new jobs to put unemployed Americans back to work and employ a growing population. Only the most optimistic scenario shows a return to full employment before 2020. The report notes, as others have, that the length of recovery after each recession since WWII gets longer and longer.

Also, according to the report, “too few Americans who attend college and vocational schools choose fields of study that will give them the specific skills that employers are seeking.” McKinsey cited a few specific vocations that, based on its interviews, employers expect to have more vacancies than they can fill. Here are the five professions mentioned in the report, along with some data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (I have no idea what sort of track record the BLS has for its projections, so be warned).

Nutritionists

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook Handbook entry on Dietitians and Nutritionists:

2010 Median Pay: $53,250 per year or $25.60 per hour

Entry-level education: Bachelor’s degree (along with state certification)

Job Outlook, 2010-20: 20% (Faster than average)

According to the Wikipedia nutritionist entry:

Some use the terms “dietitian” and “nutritionist” as basically interchangeable. However in many countries and jurisdictions, the title “nutritionist” is not subject to professional regulation; any person may call themselves a nutrition expert even if they are wholly self-taught.[2] In most US states, parts of Canada, Australia, and the United Kingdom, the term nutritionist is not legally protected, whereas the title of dietitian can be used only by those who have met specified professional requirements. One career counselor attempting to describe the difference between the two professions to Canadian students suggested “all dietitians are nutritionists, but not all nutritionists are dietitians.”

According to the Wikipedia dietitian entry:

Besides academic education, dietitians must complete at least 1200 hours of practical, supervised experience through an accredited program before they can sit for the registration examination. In a coordinated program, students acquire internship hours concurrently with their coursework. In a didactic program, these hours are obtained through a dietetic internship that is completed after obtaining a degree.

Welders

According to the Occupational Outlook Handbook entry on Welders, Cutters, Solderers, and Brazers:

2010 Media pay: $35,450 per year or $17.04 per hour.

Entry-level education: High school diploma or equivalent (“Training ranges from a few weeks of school or on-the-job training for low-skilled positions to several years of combined school and on-the-job training for highly skilled jobs.”)

Job Outlook, 2010-2020: 15% (About average)

Nurse’s aides

According to the Occupational Outlook Handbook entry for Nursing Aides, Orderlies, and Attendants:

2010 Median Pay: $24,010 per year or $11.54 per hour.

Entry-level education: Postsecondary non-degree award

Job outlook 2010-20: 20% (Faster than average)

Nuclear technicians

According to the Occupational Outlook Handbook: “Nuclear technicians assist physicists, engineers, and other professionals in nuclear research and nuclear production. They operate special equipment used in these activities and monitor the levels of radiation that are produced.”

2010 Median Pay: $68,090 per year, $32.73 per hour.

Entry-level education: Associate’s degree (plus extensive on the job training)

Job Outlook, 2010-20: 14% (About as fast as average)

Computer specialists and engineers

This is obviously a giant bucket that includes a wide range of jobs. I don’t know much about traditional engineering fields like civil or mechanical engineering, but computer tech changes quick. People with the right skills can command high salaries, but people with outdated skills can be unemployed for years at a time. My colleague Alex Williams recently wrote about which tech skills are growing fastest (hint: mobile application development is huge).

Notes from a William Gibson Q&A Session (9/08/10)

These are my notes from William Gibson’s Q&A session after his Zero History reading at Powells Books in Portland, OR on 9/08/2010 (here are some photographs from the evening). I thought initially that most of this would come up in other interviews, but I recently reviewed my notes and realized that although some of it has come up elsewhere, some of it is either unique or unusual. So I decided to type up my notes.

Gibson started off saying “Powells is the best book store in the world. It’s not even a book store, it’s a genre all to its own,” before reading the first chapter of Zero History. After the reading he said “The reason I write opening chapters the way I do is to get rid of all the people who won’t ‘get’ the book. They’re all fairly easy to read after the first chapter.” He then opened up to questions. Most, probably all, of these answers are incomplete – but close to direct quotes from larger answers. I didn’t ask most of these questions and didn’t get down the exact questions asked.

Q: What’s next?

Gibson: I have no idea. I have to have no idea. I know no one believes me, but I never intended to make trilogies. When I was learning about writing, I was told that trilogy was a long novel with a boring middle published separately. I think the books could be read in any order. I think I would be interesting to read these backwards. But maybe that’s too advanced.

[of course now he’s said that his next novel will probably be about the future]

Where do you go for inspiration?

I’m not a globe trotting writer/researcher. Wherever I happen to go usually ends up in the book. For example, I happened to go to Myrtle Beach a few months before I wrote the book and I thought it was suitably weird.

Asked about predictions.

I’m not interested in the sort of sci-fi that does or doesn’t predict the iPad. I’m interested in how people behave.

Asked about the intelligence communities in his books

I don’t want anyone to think I’ve gone “Tom Clancy” but what you find is that you have fans in every line of work. How reliable those narrators are I don’t know, but they tell a good story.

Asked about humor in his work.

Neuromancer was not without a comedic edge. My cyberpunk colleagues and I back in our cyberpunk rat hole sniggered mightily as we slapped our knees.

But writers can’t have more than two hooks. “Gritty, punky,” sure. “Gritty, punky, funny” doesn’t work.

I asked him about the slogan “Never in fashion, always in style” because I read that slogan on his blog and never found out what company that slogan actually belonged to.

Aero Leathers in Scotland. But they weight too much. You wouldn’t tour in a WWII motorcyle jacket unless of course you were on a WWII motorcycle. [Gibson reportedly wore an Acronym jacket on the Zero History tour]

Asked about Twitter

Twitter is the best aggregator of novelty anywhere. There’s more weird shit there than anywhere. It’s the equivalent value of $300 worth of imported magazines for free every day.

Asked about hypertext/electronic media and how it is changing his work.

The book is a cloud of hyperlinks. You can Google any unfamiliar phrase and you will be sort of walking in my shoes, going where I did in my research. The links are there, and there’s even some easter eggs.

I’m not sure what question this was in response to

I large part of my narrative comes from growing up in a particularly backwards part of the south, which had a particularly spoken culture.

Asked about his favorite contemporary writers

[Anything by Iian Sinclair, Zoo City by Lauren Bach, Jack Womack’s Random Acts of Senseless Violence, which he found “wounding.”]

Asked about the punk influence on his work.

It wasn’t the Sex Pistols, it was Waylon and Willy.

Asked what sci-fi influenced him.

Certain sci-fi that never had much impact on the mainstream of the genre. My novels have had very little impact as well. If you don’t believe me, go down to a sci-fi specialist shop. Cyberpunk has become a descriptor – cyberpunk albums, cyberpunk pants.

Asked about cyberpunk’s legacy.

Anything with a manifesto ends up looking silly.

Asked what he thinks of the post-cyberpunk writers, Cory Doctorow et al.

I think the original cyberpunks were a little thin on the ground.

See also: William Gibson dossier.

Good Interview with The Net Delusion Author Evgeny Morozov

Good interview with The Net Delusion author Evgeny Morozov:

You once tweeted that ‘the term censorship has become meaningless’. Why? And what does it mean exactly?

I have? Half of my tweets are not meant to be serious. But, sure, I do find that a lot of debates about censorship – and especially Internet censorship – operate in very binary terms – i.e. people just look at whether a given site is blocked or not. This may have worked ten years ago but now we have much more sophisticated methods of control, ranging from cyber-attacks (which knock out a site for a short period – but the timing might be crucial) to self-policing by Internet companies to massive trolling. We need to find ways to conceptually allow for those new methods of control as well. […]

Did the ‘Arab Spring’ and Occupy movements lower your skepticism about ‘hashtag activism’?

I’ve never used the term “hashtag activism” but the short answer is “no”. Furthermore, I’m not sure that my position here adds up to “skepticism”; as I state in the book and in the afterword, I have no problem acknowledging that Twitter and Facebook can be great for spreading information and mobilizing people. My concerns – and these are purely normative concerns – are that these tools may also be giving some budding social movements false hopes of being able to transcend the ugliness of political life and simply fight the man from within their Facebook profiles. The less it happens, the better – I’m not arguing that this is an inherent feature of all campaigns that take place online, only that this is one possible outcome and that participants (and especially policymakers who may be thinking of how to invest their money and attention) need to be aware of this possible outcome.

Journalism Festival: @evgenymorozov: openness always good, control always bad? crazy!

(via Justin)

See also:

Morozov’s TED talk How the Net aids dictatorships

Birthers and the democratization of media

The Generative Art of Syntopia

3D Fractal Engine

Syntopia makes beautiful fractal and generative art, much of if it with their own open source software Fragmentarium.

Previously:

Trippy 3D Fractal Video

3D Fractal Images

Evolutionary, algorithmic & generative design round-up

Generative art by Jared Tarbell

Beautiful Old Moebius-esque Nintendo Comic

“Howard and Nester” was a comic in the magazine Nintendo Power. I read it as a kid but I’d forgotten how gorgeous the Moebius-style/”frenchmanga” style art was:

Howard and Nester

Nintendope has archived the entire series, but it’s not clear who drew these strips.

Howard and Nester Comics Archive

(via Brandon Graham)

New Paul Laffoley Book: Secret Universe 2

There’s a new collection of Paul Laffoley’s work out called Secret Universe 2 by Claudia Dichter and Udo Kittelmann. Other than the work printed in The Disinformation Interviews, it’s the only affordable collection of Paul’s work that I know of.

(Thanks Bill)

See also:

Official Paul Laffoley website

Nick Pell’s Technoccult TV interview with Paul

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