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Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Eccentric-looking scientists are always more famous

Movies and TV tell you that brilliant scientists are always frizzy-haired old men:

Exhibit A: Doc Brown

I believe this trend began as a result of Einstein's fame.

Exhibit B: Albert Einstein

Sure, ideas like matter and energy are the same and that time can slow down are mind-bending, but so are the ideas from quantum mechanics. Nobody knows what Heisenberg looks like because he looked like this:

Exhibit C

Exhibit D: John Bardeen was the only person to have ever won 2 Noble Prizes in physics, but you never see his face on posters or t-shirts. This is because he looks like a junior high vice principal.

My advice to fame-seeking scientists is if you can't make an important discovery, try to look as wacky as possible. 

The Museum of Stupidity

If I had the money, I'd build one. These would be the exhibits:

Financial: Zimbabwe hyperinflation, Dot com bubble, Tulip craze, and South Seas bubble

Scientific & Medical: Earth-centered universe, Piltdown hoax, phrenology, four humors, and anti-masturbation devices, anti-vaccination movement

Political: Prohibition, Great Leap Forward, Reign of Terror, Versailles Treaty

Religious: Witch burning, The Great Disappointment, Indulgences, Aztec human sacrifice, Antisemitism

I'm tempted to build a separate wing just for Islam called the Hall of Islamic Achievements, which would just be an empty room.

Monday, December 30, 2013

How to win the 3rd world farmer game

3rd World Farmer is an online game where you play the role of a poor farmer in Africa trying to survive various natural and man-made calamities. After a few tries, I figured it out and beat the game. I credit my success to my experience in the Peace Corps. Here's what to do:

1. Have as many kids as possible & put to work. Don't bother with school.
2. Build a well as soon as possible.
3. Keep your family healthy.
4. By projects before livestock, buildings, or implements.
5. Don't plant cash crops until you have at least $200.

#1 seems to run counter to most development thinking. 

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Wearing leather & listening to punk rock does not make you an anarchist

In fact, in my experience, almost all self-described anarchists are just confused, militant socialists. The most prominent self-described anarchists lately are the clowns who protest the WTO and trade liberalization. And by "protesting" I mean vandalizing property that have nothing to do with the agreement in question.

Here, "anarchists" fight exploitation by....torching random cars?

....smashing the window of a worker-friendly franchise?

These people have no point. They're just pissed-off and want to break things. If they were real anarchists, they would not be protesting deregulation and free trade.

This is one of the few times I will side with the police. The next time the jokers show up, I hope they all get a good wood shampoo and pepper spray facial.

Try doing something productive for once, you whining, hypocritical jackasses!

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Intelligent Tyranny

A large portion of humanity lives in utter terror of what other people might do. In their frantic search for protection, they form governments, whose predictable violence is somehow better than random violence.
I will never understand why guaranteed theft by taxation is more palatable than unlikely theft by crime, but I was outvoted on this issue long before I was born.

Since there is so much demand for oppression, I don't see it going out of style any time soon. If tyranny must exist, it could at least be intelligent. Here are several modest proposals:

1. Make illiteracy illegal. Anyone who cannot read on a high school level by age 18 will be flogged once a month. Illiteracy is highly correlated with poverty, crime, and other social ills.

2. Make math proficiency mandatory. Anyone who cannot do high school math by age 18 will be flogged once a month. Math ignorance is highly correlated with poverty, crime, and other social ills.

3. All unemployed able-bodied adults are to be flogged once a month.

4. All able-bodied adults will be assigned to spend 1 year in a foreign country.

5. Whichever side loses a law suit will be required to pay all the legal costs or be flogged.

6.  Make voting mandatory. Violators will be flogged.

7. Corrupt or incompetent politicians, judges, bureaucrats, police, etc are to be hanged.

8. Fathers of bastard children are to be flogged.

9. Make knowledge of basic civics and economics mandatory, Violators are to be flogged. 

Friday, December 27, 2013

Nature, Nurture, & Ideology

Confucius said that by birth people are almost the same, but by habit, they become very different.

For any religion or ideology, there is no common trait in the background of the its members. In any tribe or creed, you will find rich, poor, happy, melancholy, outgoing, shy, young, old, more besides and everything in between.

Ideology and religion then are not inherited, but are habits. It is fair to say that initial outlook is almost always the outlook of the parents or community, but rebellion is likewise nearly certain.

So why do people adopt the political and religious beliefs they adopt? I have a few educated guesses. There are three major splits as far as worldviews go. The first is the thinker vs. feeler axis, loner vs. joiner axis, and believer vs. cynic axis. Of course, there are no pure thinkers, feelers. loners, joiners, believers, or cynics, but almost everyone lies close to one side or another.

Thinkers like to judge things by looking for facts and weighing them out. Feelers go by gut instinct and first impressions. Loners prefer the freedom of solitude while joiners prefer the safety of numbers. Last, believers feel human nature is essentially good and others can be trusted while cynics believe human nature is naturally bad and seek defense.

This model gives 8 basic ideological archetypes based on T or F, L or J, and B or C. I'll further postulate that in general, there is a moderate to strong bias towards F, J, and C. People tend to feel rather than think because thinking requires more effort. Joining is also more popular because there is a desire for acceptance. And the prevalence of religion and belief in heaven and  hell show that most people believe good conduct is the result of carrots and sticks rather than good nature.

TLB and to a lesser extent TLC tend to be libertarians. They like ideas and clear-cut evidence. They tend not to join groups and are often contemptuous of those who do. The more cynical tend to towards anarchism while the others see things like the Constitution and/or religion as reliable but imperfect guideposts.

TJB and TJC are the mostly secular and somewhat religious conservatives. They both prefer the security of a political party and existing customs but differ in  the importance they attach to religion. TJCs feel strongly about things like school prayer whereas TJBs worry more about taxes.

 FJB and FJC are the hard left and the hard right. You can tell these two by the way they answer questions by saying "I just feel..." and/or often getting angry when others disagree with them. The FJBs think we can all be one big happy family and the FJCs think the country should be run like an English boarding school. The mascot for FJCs is this woman:

And last we have FLB and FLC. FLBs tend to be lefty, artistic types or vagabonds/hippies. FLCs tend to be lefty rebels, muckrakers, bad* comedians, and MSNBC hosts. FLBs love talking about their latest project or insight. FLCs often complain about Fox News, Rush Limbaugh, and crimes against political correctness.

*The kind that thinks political humor begins and ends with mocking Republicans and/or Christianity

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Thom Hartmann: A Jerk for All Seasons

Some people are obnoxious by nature. Others work long and hard at rationalizing empty-headed ideas. When these two traits combine in a single person, they detonate like a fuel-air bomb of derp.

Thom Hartmann is the host of Democracy Now! and author of several political & environmental books.  He is not particularly fond of libertarians.

See the video below entitled "Is Libertarianism the Velvet Glove Over the Iron Fist of Racism?" Yes, that is the real title. I must praise his restraint in using that title instead of "How Often Do Libertarians Kick Puppies While Drinking the Blood of Orphans out of Skull Goblets Fashioned from Arthritic Charwomen?" Racism is Team Blue ketchup- they put it on everything. It sure is interesting that liberals will obsess over a country that ceased to be 150 years ago while simultaneously ignoring all the atrocities committed by left-wing regimes in the last 50 years.

It seems like an afterthought to mention that this man regularly appears on the Russian propaganda network RT. I can sort of understand why someone would become a political prostitute- everyone has bills. But if you decide to be a political prostitute, especially for an awful goon like Putin, your credibility is gone. 

I take that back- Hartmann is not a political prostitute. Even prostitutes have standards. Hartmann is more like a toothless, meth-addled crack whore ready to go down on any authoritarian scumbag. 

Use a dental dam, Mr. Hartmann. Russia is a dangerous place to be a journalist

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Amanda Marcotte: Butcher of the English Language

I happened upon this wonderful blog dedicated to revising Marcotte's awful writing.

Amanda Marcotte is a feminist blogger with a habit of writing monstrous run-on sentences. Let's look at a typical sample:

Part of me really doesn’t want to discourage Glenn Beck and Michelle Bachmann from continuing to hit the road and tell their largely elderly constituents that they need to be “weaned off” “government” funded programs like Social Security and Medicare---the teabaggers may not be the smartest people on the planet, but I’m sure people who begrudge every penny like they do noticed that Social Security and Medicare was paid directly by them from their payroll taxes and therefore the money they’re getting now is their money. (89 words) 

Yes, an 89-word sentence. She's not quite in James Joyce territory yet, but Joyce was writing experimental fiction. Marcotte is supposed to be writing humorous prose. Instead, almost all of her articles appears to be an attempt to reprise the Johann Gambolputty skit from Monty Python:

I have read North Korea propaganda that was better written. There is something about strong political beliefs that uniformly produces terrible writing- whether communist treatises, Marcotte columns, or John Galt's speech from Atlas Shrugged.

Amanda Marcotte Gambolputty de von Ausfern -schplenden -schlitter -crasscrenbon -fried -digger -dangle -dungle -burstein -von -knacker -thrasher -apple -banger -horowitz -ticolensic -grander -knotty -spelltinkle -grandlich -grumblemeyer -spelterwasser -kürstlich -himbleeisen -bahnwagen -gutenabend -bitte -eine -nürnburger -bratwustle -gerspurten -mit -zweimache -luber -hundsfut -gumberaber -shönendanker -kalbsfleisch -mittler -raucher von Hautkopft of Ulm has supposedly written a response to these charges, but I have been unable to locate it. 

I for one hope Marcotte has a long a prolific writing career. She does for writing what Florence Foster Jenkins did for singing. 

See also:

US only needs to defend against ICBMs & terrorists

The US has a a great deal of geographic defense from foreign enemies. It has two great oceans on each side and is only bordered by two countries- both of them friendly. Its nuclear arsenal alone is a strong deterrent to any attacking country, even one with nuclear weapons.

The US faces a very low risk of attack by conventional weapons from either land, air, or sea. There are only two main dangers. The greater one is enemy ICBMs, which are already deterred by US missiles and the lesser threat is terrorism.

Satellites & radar are needed to detect launches and track ICBMs. The US already has plenty of these- probably too many. NORAD currently tracks, or tries to track, all objects entering or inside US airspace. Its primary mission during my life has been tracking Santa's sleigh and defending against jet bombers. I'm not sure which of those is a bigger waste of time. The only nation whose bombers are in range is Russia and they have ICBMs anyway.

Enemy ICBMs can only be launched from outside the US. Shouldn't the early warning stations be far from the coasts and borders? Why not forget the radar entirely and just put up more satellites? All we need to know is who launched the missile so we can retaliate.

As for the case of a so-called rogue nation launching a missile, I fail to see why that would not be deterred by the threat of retaliation. There's no use in throwing a rock at someone if they have a gun pointed at you.
I have heard talk of terrorists possibly using ICBMs or other nukes, but that is even less likely. Nukes are very hard to make, only a few countries have them, and they are guarded carefully. Since the goal of terrorists is to do as much damage as cheaply as possible, there's no way they'd waste their time or money on nukes. That's why they favor cheap things like homemade bombs.

Speaking of terrorism, there are few basic principles that must be kept in mind. The first is the goal of terrorism is not to kill or destroy, but to alter public opinion. Terrorist attacks rarely cause mass death or destruction- the first purpose is to get attention and the second one is to provoke retaliation. The first goal is designed to demoralize the enemy and the second is designed to boost recruitment. The US can't control how the media portrays terrorist attacks, but it can minimize their impact by not over-reacting.

I realize saying that is a bit like closing the barn door after the horse has run off, but there it is. It is very hard to catch terrorists before they attack, so the only real defense is to try to starve the terrorist groups of new recruits. The best way to do that is avoid heavy-handed retaliation to terror attacks. The US unfortunately has been doing the exact opposite.

You can't kill a fly with a sledgehammer. But if sneak up slowly and calmly, you can swat it. You don't need to kill all the flies in the world either- just the ones that manage to get in your house. 

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Rethinking air defense

Aircraft are the backbone of the US military's offense, with unmanned aircraft steadily moving into the lead role. Given US reliance on air power, it makes sense to think about better air defense. I will examine this in terms of radar, UAVs, and the pros and cons of AAA vs. SAMs. I will then describe a hypothetical plan of defense against a US bombing campaign. 

First, a brief trip back to the first Gulf War. Iraqi air defense was defeated early on and very few US aircraft were lost. This was accomplished by a clever gambit. The first wave of aircraft were drone decoys whose purpose was to get the Iraqis to turn on all their radar systems. The second wave was strike aircraft that launched radar-homing missiles which destroyed most of the Iraqi radar. Without radar, the Iraqis could only fire blindly. The US quickly gained air supremacy. 

The lesson here is that while radar is a key part of air defense, it is also its key weakness. Optical and infrared targeting is more difficult but it has the advantage of not being vulnerable to radar-homing weapons.
It would be interesting to see if a distributed radar system based on patrolling drones would be better than ground-based radar networks. 

UAVs like the Predator drone are less expensive to operate and can loiter far longer than manned aircraft. 
There's also no risk of losing the pilot. On the flip side, they are relatively easy to shoot down. 15 were destroyed by the Serbs by both SAMs and AAA during the 1999 war with NATO. Since they communicate by radio, they are also vulnerable to jamming, although there have been no records of that as yet. The satellites they rely on are also vulnerable to attack. The Chinese successfully destroyed a satellite with a missile in 2007. My conclusion is that drones are best used against enemies with minimal air defense, though even against strong defense they make good decoys. 

 Low and slow flying aircraft can be shot down with small arms, but for everything else, the only options are AAA, SAMs, and other aircraft. Ground-based weapons have historically shot down far more aircraft than fighters/interceptors, and are far cheaper. During the Vietnam War, almost all US air losses were from AAA, even though the SAMs and fighters also made kills. AAA is cheap and reliable, but less accurate and have less range. SAMs are more accurate and longer range, but are more expensive and can be foiled by chaff, flares, and ECM.  

If I was tasked with designing the air defense of a small country, my strategy would revolve around, dispersion, deception & camouflage. I would construct many decoy targets to tempt the US into wasting bombs. The Serbs protected most of their armored vehicles from being destroyed by NATO through decoys. I would construct decoy air base, planes, SAM sites, etc. The fake defenses would be more numerous than the real ones. 

Rather than concentrate defenses in vital areas, I'd spread them out, which would help confuse them about where the real targets are. The decoys would be defended as strongly as any other potential target. The US is very good at hitting what they want to hit, but they only have so many planes and so many bombs and most importantly, only so much time to win the war. 

As for the actual weapons, I'd put a little of my money into MANPADs. I would also have a large store of unguided rocket like the old Z-battery to launch at aircraft to get them to waste their chaff and flares. The bulk would go to top-of-line missile systems like the Tor, the Buk, and the Pantsir.  

If the Freemasons run the world, why do their lodges look so lame?

I have heard many conspiracy theories about how the Freemasons secretly run the world. I find this difficult to believe given how unimpressive their lodges look. Here are some samples:

I've seen dental offices that were more inspiring. OK, the grand lodges are nicer, but nothing special. Contrast that with the Vatican or the White House, or any of the buildings of organizations that actually have authority. Powerful organizations generally flaunt themselves.  

It could be that the Freemasons really do run the world, and that their dingy lodges are just a ruse to fool people into thinking they're harmless kooks. 

Here's what they look like on the inside: 


Sunday, December 22, 2013

Kafka meets Microsoft

I bought a new computer in 2010. I neglected to activate my Microsoft Office programs because I forgot. When I went to use one, I tried entering in the product key on the side of my computer, but it was rejected. I was given the option of downloading Microsoft Office starter, which would allow me to view and edit MS Word documents. Halfway through the installation, I was informed that this program displays ads on the screen when running. I didn't want any of that, so I tried to cancel the installation, but it was too late. 

Every day since then, the following message from Microsoft has popped up on my computer:

If you want a vision of the future of computers, imagine the same unwanted window popping up on your screen forever. 

Saturday, December 21, 2013

A Brief History of Military Training & Discipline

The history of military training & discipline is an important but often neglected part of military history. Soldiers must be trained and training camps and war games are as old as war itself. Modern military training carries on traditions of exercise, drill, and hazing that have been passed down from ancient times.

Roman military training consisted of running, marching with packs, and sword practice. The bulk of armies for most of history were infantry, so the emphasis on marching and formations then and later makes sense. Roman soldiers who failed to perform adequately in training were punished by being fed less food or worse-tasting food. See De Re Militari for more details.

Sun Tzu wrote much on the importance of discipline. He said that armies that have greater consistency in rewards and punishments are more likely to win. No matter how clever a general is, he cannot win unless he can get his subordinates to obey his orders.

Frederick the Great famously said that he wanted his men to be more afraid of their own officers than the enemy. His army had the harshest discipline of any in Europe at the time and it did correlate with battlefield success. So the conventional military wisdom is that troops must obey and they are trained to obey through rewards like medals and promotions and punishments like beatings, forced exercise, getting yelled at, etc. The shared experience of being hazed also helps for group cohesion.

Discipline is important. But like weapons and tactics, it needs to be updated from time to time. I suspect that there are many aspects of modern military training & discipline that are pointless and counterproductive.

Saluting is a good example of this. Since the advent of snipers, saluting has been avoided in forward areas to avoid attracting attention to officers. Saluting began in the middle ages when knights would have to lift the lids on their helmets so they could speak clearly. Even after soldiers stopped wearing helmets with face shields, the gesture lived on. My view is that this is a silly tradition that serves no purpose and should stop.

Running is another traditional and obsolete training practice. In the days when infantry was king, many battles were won when one side made a mad charge at the right time. In other battles, soldiers survived by running away at the right time. These days however, most of the running is pilots rushing to aircraft or other very short sprints. Most modern military personnel travel almost entirely by vehicle. The long-distance torture running the military likes so much served little purpose before and none now.

And then there is the hazing, yelling, etc. I have heard that one purpose of this is to get people used to the kind of stress found on the battlefield. Getting hazed is no doubt stressful but I really doubt if it is anywhere near the level brought about by actual battle. I don't think there is anyway to safely simulate the fear from life-or-death situations. The other reason for the hazing is to break down a person's will and make them obedient. It is very hard to make people into robots and soldiers who can think for themselves fight better.
There should been a few clear orders and strict enforcement of them.

I have often wondered about how I would run a boot camp. Everyone who wanted in would have to pass a fitness test first. After that, they have to retest once a year similar to what the military does now. Why waste time getting people in shape? Save time and only recruit fit people.

I think instead of training people in platoons, I would set up a series of stations that could be completed in any order as an individual or small group- sort of like a summer camp. I predict that most recruits would go to the weapon stations first. Why not? Let them have some fun.

There would be stations for rifles, pistols, grenades, first aid, map reading, rules & regs, booby traps, secrecy, and an infiltration course. Once all their boxes are checked, they get a medal and move on.

No running, no marching, no rifle-flipping, no saluting, no obsessing about uniforms. You go to learn a few basic tasks in a week or two and then you move on to more specific training. There are only a few things that all troops need to know so basic training does not need to be long. In the past almost everyone was infantry so basic training was all the training they got. These days, military jobs are so specialized there's not much point in traditional basic training.

Friday, December 20, 2013

Submarines are not wonder weapons

A certain military blogger I have been chatting with is convinced that surface ships are useless and subs are ten pounds of awesome in a five-pound bag.

His position is that surface ships have always been big, slow, and easy to sink. There are even easier to sink now because of things like long-range jets, nukes, satellites, anti-ship missiles, etc. Basically, they can't run, hide, or fight. Subs, on the other hand, can at least hide underwater for long periods of time.

It is true subs are harder to find, but they are hardly invisible even when submerged. Subs are big metal objects full of machinery that shakes, rattles, and rolls. So with you can find them with special listening equipment. You can also use sonar to bounce a sound wave off them and find them that way. Magnetic sensors are yet another method.

During WW2, hundreds of Axis and Allied subs were sunk by mines and depth charges- both of which are much simpler and cheaper than subs. Subs were also destroyed by aircraft and other subs.

During the Cold War, there were at least 20 collisions between US and USSR subs. Given the size of the ocean, it is very unlikely they collided by chance. It's clear that both sides were able to track each other. The main tracking tool the US used was SOSUS, a network of underwater sound detectors that covered all the major sub routes.

Bottom line: subs are also big and slow. And they can only hide from enemies that don't have sonar & other WW2-era technologies.

Our friend says the fact that the British lost 6 ships during the Falklands War is proof the ships should not have been used. I asked him how the British could have transported all the troops, aircraft, etc to the area without ships. He said the British should have left the surface ships at home and used the subs to launch surface-to-air missiles to shoot down the Argentinian planes.

He did not explain how a submerged sub is supposed to shoot down a moving target it can't see.

In his defense, I mostly agree with his point that surface ships have many weaknesses that make them hard to use against any country with aircraft and other advanced weapons. I would extend that argument to submarines.

If it were up to me, I'd get rid of the ships and subs and replace them with buoys, hydrophone arrays, etc. All we really need to know is where enemy ships are. Destroying them with anti-ship missiles and depth charges is a piece of cake.

As for the Falklands War, the British should have abandoned the place in the 19th century. The only thing I can fault them for otherwise is they should have known their military radar and computers would not recognize French-built planes and missiles as hostile. SNAFU, fog of war, etc.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Rachel Maddow High School Graduation Speech


I guess Rachel thought the suburbs of Francisco were not quite progressive enough.

Was the Navajo code better than other WW2 codes?

Over the past few days, I had a long debate with John T Reed about this. His take can be found here.

Here are the relevant facts:

1. There have been many times when obscure languages have been used as codes.

2. The Navajo code had a simple structure.

3. The Japanese tried to break as shown by the interrogation and torture of Navajo POW Joe Kieyoomia.

4. The Japanese succeeding in breaking some conventional Allied codes. The Allies broke various Axis codes including the extremely sophisticated Enigma code.

5. The Japanese failed to break the Navajo code.

Reed's take is the reason the Japanese failed to break the Navajo code because they were either incompetent or thought the code was not important enough to break. Facts #3 and  #4  show that this cannot be true.

If Navajo code was never broken despite being attacked by competent cryptographers and the other ones were, doesn't that prove it was better?

Suppose it was the Germans who were using the Navajo code or one like it. Would the cryptographers at Bletchley Park have succeeded in breaking it?

Monday, December 9, 2013

Does morality come from ink on paper?

When phrased like that, the idea seems absurd. And yet that is exactly the logical result of belief in the so-called rule of law. You could say that some laws are invalid because they violate the more basic principles of the Constitution, but that's just ink on paper too. The Constitution has been amended before. Congress could repeal the first or second amendment just like they repealed the 18th amendment. What happens to your so-called rights then?

Anyone who looks to the law to protect their freedom is a blind man searching a dark basement for a black cat that doesn't exist. 

Is Obamacare an Offensive Term?

Short answer: No.

Longer answer: Is the term Reaganomics offensive? How about the Monroe Doctrine or all the other doctrines? There is a long tradition of attaching the names of Presidents to their policies. If you think the term is derogatory, it's probably because the idea sucks.  

The Texas Short Vowel Massacre

I recently moved to Texas. Every word seems to have an extra vowel down here. Fit sounds like fee-it. Ten sounds like tay-in. I refer to this phenomenon as the Texas Short Vowel Massacre.

Friday, December 6, 2013

Math Anyone Can Master

Over the 20 or so years I've been learning, teaching, and using math, I've put together a kind of mental toolbox. In it are the tips, tricks, and shortcuts I've found the most useful. The first group are some general tips and the second are hints for mastering arithmetic.

1. Knowing something about what the answer should look like

If I could go back in time and give one piece of advice to my younger self, I would say that before you try to work a problem, you should try to get an idea of what the answer should look like. If you know what the answer should look like (what units, bigger or smaller than the starting number, positive or negative) you have very good clues as to how to work the problem. For example, 345 + 678 = ? Well, I can round 345 to 300 and 678 to 700. 300 plus 700 is 1000, so the actual answer should be close to 1000.

In word problems, you should look for the question mark. That will tell you the units of the answer.

2. Break down the problem into steps

Just about any math problem more complicated than 1 +1 = 2 requires more than one step to solve. Just like you can't bake a cake in one step, neither can you try to solve a math problem all at once.

3. Try to check your answer

In most math problems, you will have an equation you can use to check your answer. Put your answer into that equation and see if you get the same thing on both sides of the equal sign.

4. Write down each step

It's far easier to find mistakes by writing down each step in your solution. At first, it's best to write every single change on a new line. As you get better, you can do some easy steps in your head.

Here are some tips for mastering arithmetic

1. Learn to add and subtract single numbers by heart

There are ten single numbers: 0 to 9. This means there are 100 sums and 100 differences so 200 things to memorize. You can chop that number for addition from 100 to 50 by realizing that in addition, order does not matter- 1 + 2 is the same as 2 +1. You can reduce that 50 to 30 by realizing that any number plus zero is the other number and that a number plus one just goes to the next higher number. Once you have the sums memorized, subtraction is a piece of cake. If your know that 2+3=5., then 5-2 must be 3 because that's the part leftover. So really, you only need to remember 30 sums.

2. Learn the multiplication tables by heart

Like addition, you need to learn all the products of one digit numbers. Again, this makes 100 products to memorize. Like addition, you can cut that in half by knowing that order does not matter in multiplication.
2 x 3 = 3 x 2 .= 6. You can cut this down to 30 by remembering that a number times one is the other number and that a number times zero is zero. It is impossible to learn how to do division and fractions without mastering multiplication.

3. Move the decimal point when multiplying or dividing a number by a number like 10, 100, etc.

Multiplying or dividing by a multiple of 10 is a piece of cake. If you're multiplying, write what the other number is and then add on the total number of zeroes. For example, 30 x 60 = ? Well, 3 x 6 = 18 and there are two zeroes. Write the 18 and then two zeroes and you get the answer: 1800. For division, for every zero on the top, you can cross out a zero on the bottom. For example, 30 / 60 = 3 / 6. 3 / 6 simplifies to 1 /2 or one half. With decimals, count the zeros on the multiple of 10. Move the decimal point to the left if dividing and to the right if multiplying. Examples:
3.4 x 10 = 34 (one zero; moved the decimal point one space to the right)
3.4 / 10 = 0.34 (one zero, move the decimal point one space to the left.)

There are other tricks, but these are the one that have been the most useful to me. 

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Voodoo Quality

I have about 2 years experience as a engineer in a handful of manufacturing environments. I make no claim to be an expert. You don't need to work very long in manufacturing before you start seeing patterns. Everywhere I've worked, I've seen unnecessary paperwork, kluges, and most of all, half-baked propaganda about quality.

I believe it was Eisenhower who said farming looks very easy when your plow is a pencil and you're 1,000 miles from a corn field. In the same way, it's very easy to parrot vague, empty statements like "build quality into the product" or "customer satisfaction is our goal" or "we are committed to zero defects."

Workers want to do good work and companies want to please customers. When they fail, the problem is not with the slogans or the forms but with specific machines and materials. I leave out people because only machines and materials can be modified at will by engineers. If you want to change behavior, by say, telling the operators to use a new tool, the only way to make sure they do it is to take away the old ones. No amount of words written or spoken will change the mind of someone who wants fight the change and has the power to do so. This group includes most workers.

Here's the good news: the big answer is there are no big answers. There are only specific answers to specific problems, and you have to look damn hard to find them. IBM summed up every quality fad decades ago with their motto THINK.

The slogans and quality techniques are a fine compass, but you must draw the map yourself.

As far as the Japanese stuff goes, techniques which work well in Japan will not work in the US if the US workplace if different from the Japanese one where the technique started. I don't know how many US companies operate in a way similar to a Japanese one, but it could probably be counted on one hand. In Japan, lifetime employment is the norm. In the US, it's rare. In Japan, it is common for workers to die from exhaustion during overtime. In the US, private investigators are sent to make sure that disabled employees are not faking it. In Japan, top executives rarely make more than ten times the company's lowest paid worker. In the US, top executives usually make make tens or hundreds of times more than the company's lowest paid worker.

The whole Japanese thing about how the company is a team/family is legit over there. In the US, everyone knows that stuff is bullshit. So what kind of fool thinks Japanese slogans are going to translate to the US workplace? Thinking that using Japanese words will make you efficient is like thinking that using Swahili words will make you better marathon runner.