Lessons from sports for adult life

Back in middle school, I played basketball.  At one summer basketball camp, I was in the one-on-one competition against one of the best girls in the camp.  I played hard, took outside shots, and really did not give her the easy win that she wanted.  She learned pretty quickly that it was going to be a tougher battle than anticipated, so she started doing things like slapping my arms every time I took a shot. It was absurd; I went to the foul line a few times, the ref stopped calling her on it when she did it, and at the end of the game (she won), my arms were red from the top of my bicep to the middle of my forearm.

It is an excellent analogy for how dirty the Market Basket Board of Directors is fighting.  A month ago, they thought they had this easy win: old CEO ousted, new co-CEOs in place, get the chain ready for sale and a huge payout.  Then about 160 of the employees in the warehouse and trucking went on strike.  The management responded by doing what you do with non-unionised workers who strike: fire the managers who organised it.  That didn’t quell the rebellion; it threw gasoline onto the fire.  The strike turned to a chain-wide protest and a two million customer boycott. Ousted CEO Arthur T. Demoulas offered to buy the part of the chain that his rivals own; the Board has sat on the offer for three weeks. Meanwhile, their “win” is ever more elusive: the chain is losing ten million dollars a day, no one really wants to buy the chain except for the ousted CEO, and the customer protests are only getting stronger.

The newest tactic by the desperate Board, seeing “their” victory pulled away from them, is to offer “Artie T” a non-CEO management spot (thereby rejecting his offer to return as CEO pending the sale to him) with no guarantee that the chain would be sold to him if he stabilises the company.  His spokesman rightly called the Board out on how ridiculous that is.  New England collectively cracked up and asked why Artie T. would do their own work for them.

So they have now come out with a petulant, petty statement deriding him, a non-voting shareholder with no control over the company an an offer to buy it for more than it is worth, for “holding employees and customers hostage.” When losing games that they expect to win, some people get very petty and nasty.

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Advice, defined

Advice: what you ask for when you know what you’re supposed to do but don’t want to do it.

That came to mind when reading David Brooks’ column about the value (or lack thereof) of introspection. Too much introspection leads to a lack of perspective, which is why it’s often easier to give other people advice than to give it to yourself.

We’re better at giving other people good advice than at giving ourselves good advice, so it’s smart, when trying to counsel yourself, to pretend you are somebody else. This can be done a bit even by thinking of yourself in the third person. Work by Ozlem Ayduk and Ethan Kross finds that people who view themselves from a self-distanced perspective are better at adaptive self-reflection than people who view themselves from a self-immersed perspective.

I found that thinking of myself as a friend or colleague with a problem, then asking “What would I say to this person if she came to me for help?” opens up my thought process. For people who are grade-A stress cases, it also helps to get some emotional distance from the problem.

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Advice For College Students

Last year, I wrote some #AdviceForCollegeWomen and #AdviceForCollegeMen.  You can find it here.

I would like to think that my advice to “major in something useful, minor in something fun” is pertinent given that a lot of the pay gap is the result of a career-choice gap (i.e. the highest-paying professions are things like petroleum engineering and are often dominated by men), and that my advice to not get black-out drunk is important in an age wherein drunk people do mean things to each other.

Of course, no one gets rich – or even gets page views – off saying boring things like “Study and party, or study and don’t party, but make sure you study,” or “Don’t get pregnant and don’t get anyone pregnant.”

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Define “tech industry”

For those who know me “in real life,” I had a previous career in R&D. Most of my co-workers (in Massachusetts, no less) were centre-right, a few hard-core conservatives, and a few old-fashioned liberals.  So imagine my surprise when I saw a poll claiming that most people in the “tech industry” are liberals. (Hat tip.)

First, the Pando poll admits that it is “completely unscientific,” in that it is derived from readers of the blog.  A better description of the poll would be “readers of the Pando blog.”  Very likely, the poll shows us nothing more than those who are demographically left (young, single, with time on their hands) are more likely to read that blog than are those who are demographically right (older, usually married, often spending more time changing diapers or driving kids to soccer games than reading blogs).

But the whole thing brought to mind the issue of what is the “tech industry.”

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Why my blog is boring

There are times when you just realise that your blog is boring. Maybe it’s because it doesn’t have the name of an animal in the title. Maybe it’s because you don’t have pink hair and the lack of panache comes through in your writing.  Or maybe it’s just that you don’t write things like this about the Market Basket meltdown:

But what is this ineffectual leadership going to do? Fucking fire everyone? Yeah, no. Disaster. Not even just in a logistics sense, but from a PR standpoint, it would be a headache to attempt to hire an entirely new work force for every store. Customers are protesting along with the workers, and the fallout from such a move would be drastic. It would take months for a new workforce to get up to speed, if they could even find enough people willing to work there. Do they think robotic minions grow on trees? Not since we told Monsanto to cut the crap with the robotic minion GMOs.

Is replacing the new CEO team not an option? Don’t look at me, I have tattoos, pink hair, live in relative poverty, and I’m writing a freakin’ blog. I’m not exactly in Harvard Business School here. But with these two dipweasels at the helm, it’s not going well for Market Basket. This shitstorm may not be entirely under their control, but they’re sitting there with stupid looks on their faces just letting it happen with no real solutions.

Good one, Clamsplainer.

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Tuesday Pop Quiz

Who said this?

 Corporations, “separate and apart from” the human beings who own, run, and are employed by them, cannot do anything at all. [....]

While it is certainly true that a central objective of for profit corporations is to make money, modern corporate law does not require for-profit corporations to pursue profit at the expense of everything else, and many do not do so. For-profit corporations, with ownership approval, support a wide variety of charitable causes, and it is not at all uncommon for such corporations to further humanitarian and other altruistic objectives.

a. John Mackey, CEO of Whole Foods
b. Elizabeth Warren
c. Samuel Alito
d. Pope Francis
e. Steve Jobs

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For Sale:

As seen on Facebook:

For sale: 51% of a major New England grocery chain. Currently warehouse and delivery drivers are on strike and stores on slowdown. Majority of stores are also refusing deliveries by temporary drivers. The majority of customers are boycotting all stores. The chain has seen more than a 91% drop on sales in one week with equivalent reduction in income. 49% of the chain is held by Arthur T. Demoulas, et al, whom employees, management, and customers demand be restored to the CEO position before normal operation and sales can commence. Arthur T. Demoulas has offered to purchase the 51% at above FMV. His offer must be exceeded. Do I hear any bids?

Without getting into the details of corporate fiduciary duty, it would be hard to imagine a good reason to sell the chain to any other bidder, unless said bidder were delusional.

For readers who are thinking, “I don’t get the joke, but my New England friends keep posting pictures of some guy and ‘Our Boss. Our Only Boss,'” google Market Basket, Artie T., non-union strike, or even Team Artie T.


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Elite Universities: The Good, the Bad, and the Pathological

The Internet is all abuzz with a post about elite universities from The New Republic. (Find commentary here and here.) There are some issues with the article, namely, going from a legitimate gripe about the insane admissions process to assuming that “kids these days” are shallow, self-absorbed twits, or that “real learning” doesn’t happen at good schools.

I’m the first to say that the modern elite college admissions process is best ignored in favour of having a life and doing things that interest you. But the value of being at such a university is not just in the connections or the professors; it is one’s fellow students.

Back in high school, I found plenty of smart, motivated students in the honours and AP courses, but it wasn’t that challenging of an experience.  (I seem to recall spending five minutes a day on my AP chem homework.) That all changed once I hit university and found that I was one of five thousand people who had all been among the best students at their high schools.  My engineering and science professors often graded us on a B-/C+ curve, and when you looked around the room to wonder who would get the Cs, you often looked at yourself. Once my ego got over being whacked, it was a great experience: I worked harder than I ever would have before, for professors who demanded more out of me than any teacher had before, alongside students who were very smart, motivated, and intellectually curious.

It also showed me how very big the world is and how very many talented people are in it.  You can tell a teenager that there are four million high school seniors graduating with her and an awful lot of them are ridiculously brilliant, but it’s just an abstraction until she starts to meet hundreds or thousands of those people at a time.  It was an unnerving experience, but a valuable one: adults should understand that the world is full of talented people.

The problem that everyone from TNR to Stacy McCain has with super-elite universities is that people focus on admission and alumni connections, as if what actually happens at college is irrelevant. But that is a problem that is best solved by individual students and their parents, not by elite thinkers and planners.

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The wrong kind of irony

A young Dutch man named Cor Pan, likely a passenger on the Malaysian airplane that was shot down over Russia, tweeted out a photo of the plane and commented, “If it should disappear, this is what it looks like.” (Story here.)

That’s just the wrong kind of irony – that which would ordinarily be a bit funny, but is downright macabre when the plane actually disappears.

Not that I’m judging. Six years ago, one of my friends told me to call when I landed in California to let him know that I arrived safely. I told him that if there were a problem, he would hear about it on the news. Forty-eight hours later, he heard in the news that a huge earthquake hit the area I was in.

Too bad words don’t taste like chocolate; they would be so much easier to eat.

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Psychic Sea Pets Live up to Statistics, Not Hype

The famous Vampire Squid predicted that Brazil would win the World Cup this year, which is kind of awkward, seeing as Germany won. Paul the octopus was much better at predicting winners.  Here’s Paul:

Vampire Squid

But as I told you here, you need a lot of wanna-be psychic sea pets in order to make a good psychic sea pet.  It’s also easier to have a psychic sea pet when you can narrow its choices to the two that are in existence (e.g. Argentina versus Germany in the finals), not any options that previous events have eliminated (e.g. Brazil in the finals). Alternatively, you could try an animal with only six arms, like Henry the Hexapus, instead of one with eight arms or a lot of ink.



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