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On people who make great things

Paul Graham calls these people simply “makers”. I’m concerned with what drives people toward arete or “excellence” and how they get there.

I think the extent to which what you make is excellent depends in large part on your taste for quality and also your ability to empathize with those who will be using what you make. Can you honestly step back from your idea’s function and consider its form?

Great artists, designers, writers, programmers, architects, cooks—makers of all kinds—start with these questions in mind: How do we want this new creation to be when it’s finished? What is the effect we want to create? How do we want this to work, to feel, to behave? Great makers can see the end from the beginning, and have the ability to get to that end.

There’s a great little vignette on the Ratatouille DVD, a conversation with Brad Bird (the director) and Thomas Keller who was the chef consultant for the movie. Keller has some fascinating things to say about the art of cooking which apply to the art of making in general:

Anybody can cook. It’s just you have to have the desire, the determination, to make something that you’re going to feel proud to give to somebody, to have that emotional connection with somebody. I think you have to be emotionally attached to what you’re doing.

And the food can be so inspiring. It comes in in its raw form, and you think, “Ok, what am I going to do with this?” What are we looking at when we’re defining a new dish? We’re really looking at the end product. What do we want to see in the dish, what do we want to feel in our mouth, what do we want to smell, what do want to taste? And then we work backwards. In establishing the different techniques or the different products that we’re going to use, that will result in that end.

That’s the difference between a dreamer and a maker: any dreamer can come up with a great destination, but the true maker, the risk-taker, the artist, the entrepreneur knows how to get there (or knows the work involved and still goes) and in fact does get there. Great makers aren’t afraid to keep trying when what they’ve made isn’t right. They revise, they start over, they keep going.

Anton Ego puts it better than I can.

categories: /quotes, /art, /wisdom
posted on Mon, 18 May 2009 at 23:15 | permanent link | view comments

Nuggets o’ wisdom for Mouseketeers

Still recovering from a lovely trip to Disneyland last week. Here are a few things I seem to forget for long road trips.

Toy Story Ride

categories: /food & dining, /wisdom, /family
posted on Thu, 14 May 2009 at 09:39 | permanent link | view comments

Best. Alphabet song. Evar.

Old Sesame Street had some class. I miss those guys…

(20 s.)

This is the version I’m teaching my kids, set to Bach’s Fugue No. 2, The Well-Tempered Clavier, Book II.

categories: /media, /art
posted on Sun, 12 Apr 2009 at 19:33 | permanent link | view comments

Biaggi’s Ristorante Italiano

194 South 400 West (The Gateway) Salt Lake City, Utah 84101

Last night I had a great meal in a quiet restaruant. I’m pretty hard to please (though at the same time, I’m not picky about what I eat), but Biaggi’s did a good job, especially for a large chain. I’m giving this review mainly because of our server, Albert.

If you go to Biaggi’s, ask for Albert. If I were giving service reviews, Albert gets my highest rating. I’ve never had a better waiter. Ever. He was perfectly attentive, never troublesome, never disdainful (I’m astounded at how many servers harbor some kind of pent-up resentment toward their patrons and mask it poorly). He made me feel like I was in the presence of a good friend (and he called us “my friends” several times—nice trick) whose chief concern was my pleasure at this meal.

Albert offered several recommendations, which we took. He was dead-on. If you have Albert as your server, yield to his judgement! It may also help if you bring him some Bundaberg Ginger Beer. He seemed to like what we brought. Mention my name.

Here’s what we ordered:

Butter Squash Ravioli: This was a sweet dish, but savory enough to keep interest.

Chilean Sea Bass: Served over a bed of sautéed spinach, over garlic potatoes, over a roasted pepper cream sauce, this was my favorite dish of the night. Highly recommended if you like fish.

Chicken Piemontese: a little strongly flavored for my taste, but that’s the definition of this dish. The potatoes were beautiful.

Would I eat here again? Yes.

How eagerly am I looking forward to doing that? I’d give it a month. I’d go back next week if Albert were my server.

categories: /food & dining
posted on Sat, 11 Apr 2009 at 19:02 | permanent link | view comments


This is my first attempt at imitating Jessica Hagy’s work. Well, I liked it, anyway…


categories: /personal, /comics
posted on Tue, 07 Apr 2009 at 08:23 | permanent link | view comments

On having one’s performance managed

Stefan Stern posted an article in response to Bob Sutton’s piece entitled “Why Mangement is Not a Profession”. Both articles have important insights into management-as-a-profession (of which I’ve been a constant critic). Sutton writes:

There is remarkably little conversation about whether [MBA school] teaches people to do a better job of helping and serving clients, employees, or anyone else. Yet sociologists will tell you that a defining feature of a profession is that members are trained and socialized to put their client’s interests AHEAD of their own. That is what lawyers and doctors promise to do before they start to practice, for example.

In contrast, the societal message — and it is often quite explicit — is that the most effective managers take as much money as possible for themselves from their clients. There isn’t even the pretense of putting other’s needs ahead of your own in most talk about management education. Look at your cell phone or credit card contract if you don’t believe me, or think about what it means to succeed in a hedge fund or private equity firm — it is all about managers taking as much for themselves as possible, and leaving clients (and in some cases employees) with as little as possible. The people who run these firms will protest, but look at the financial structure.

Ouch. Stern’s article examines the issue from the side of the professional who is being “managed”:

Richard Sennett, a professor at the London School of Economics, argues that many professional people have lost “a sense of craft” in their day-to-day work. They are being judged according to their position in an occupational hierarchy, not by what it is about their work that makes them feel professional: their dedication to their craft.

“We have misunderstood the idea of quality, and how people go about doing quality work,” he says. “A most important motivator for professionals is being able to do a good job for its own sake, rather than just to meet a target. If you take that ability away from professionals they get very unhappy.”

categories: /work, /economics
posted on Tue, 24 Mar 2009 at 16:12 | permanent link | view comments

You haven’t heard enough about the AIG bailout

But maybe this is too much:

Why are AIG’s counterparties getting paid back in full, to the tune of tens of billions of taxpayer dollars?

For the answer to this question, we need to go back to the very first decision to bail out AIG, made, we are told, by then-Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson, then-New York Fed official Timothy Geithner, Goldman Sachs CEO Lloyd Blankfein, and Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke last fall. Post-Lehman’s collapse, they feared a systemic failure could be triggered by AIG’s inability to pay the counterparties to all the sophisticated instruments AIG had sold. And who were AIG’s trading partners? No shock here: Goldman, Bank of America, Merrill Lynch, UBS, JPMorgan Chase, Morgan Stanley, Deutsche Bank, Barclays, and on it goes. So now we know for sure what we already surmised: The AIG bailout has been a way to hide an enormous second round of cash to the same group that had received TARP money already.

categories: /economics, /government, /politics
posted on Tue, 17 Mar 2009 at 22:06 | permanent link | view comments

Hauser’s Law: raising taxes doesn’t help

The five dollar question being kicked around (and already decided upon) is this: “Will raising tax rates on the rich increase revenues, as Barack Obama hopes?”

[W. Kurt] Hauser uncovered the means to answer these questions definitively. In a Wall Street Journal article in 1993, he stated that “no matter what the tax rates have been, in postwar America tax revenues have remained at about 19.5 percent of GDP.”

This article is updated with recent data through 2007 (alternate link). Politically, of course, you can’t just let those dang rich people off that easily, but if you care about results more than political points, you have to find ways to raise the GDP.

categories: /government, /economics, /politics
posted on Sun, 15 Mar 2009 at 22:07 | permanent link | view comments

FDIC to the rescue

Amid the daily reports of bank failure, there is a little bright spot: the FDIC (Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation) is doing its job quietly and effectively. Smaller banks that have failed because they took on too much risky debt (as so many banks did in the past several years—shame on them), are being repossessed by the FDIC, cleaned up and sold to new owners at a bargain who will hopefully run them with better sense than the previous owners did.

categories: /economics, /government
posted on Sun, 15 Mar 2009 at 21:44 | permanent link | view comments

Memory Lapse 2009

This is how Mark and I spent Presidents Day this year, and how we should spend it every year.

Here’s an alternative link for those of you who’ve had trouble viewing it:

categories: /friends, /movies, /personal
posted on Wed, 18 Feb 2009 at 16:12 | permanent link | view comments

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