Obama or Romney?

Neither Barack Obama nor Mitt Romney impress me as candidates for President of the United States.  In Presidential Debate 2012, I said that I was looking for evidence that either had a summary plan which included a long-term vision, a day-to-day mission and concrete objectives.  From the transcripts, word counts for the Oct 3 and Oct 16 debates show their primary interest to be jobs (104 matches) and plans (99 matches).  Vision, mission, goals, objectives and strategy barely receive a mention.

Here’s the summary:

Candidate President Barack Obama Governor Mitt Romney
Vision Uses the word future 18 times, and tells Jeremy it is bright. Says Romney has a vision that government creates jobs, which Romney denies. Comments once on the President’s vision, using the opportunity to dismiss Obama’s failed policies. Uses the word future 8 times, and wants to make it ‘bright and prosperous.’
  • Keep the American people safe
  • Create ladders of opportunity
  • Protect life and liberty through military force
  • Maintain our commitment to religious tolerance and freedom
Objective Mentions jobs 45 times in two debates. “what I want to do is build on the 5 million jobs that we’ve created over the last 30 months in the private sector alone” Mentions jobs 57 times in two debates, “I was in Dayton, Ohio, and a woman grabbed my arm and she said, I’ve been out of work since May, can you help me?.”
  • Invest in education and training
  • Develop new sources of energy in America
  • Change the tax code to help small businesses
  • Reduce the deficit in a balanced way
  • Make North America energy independent
  • Open up trade with Latin America, and crack down on China
  • Make sure our people have the skills to succeed, and the best schools
  • Get us to a balanced budget
  • Champion small business

So, I’m disappointed. Neither Obama nor Romney used the debate to paint a clear picture of the future they wish to mold. They now it’s coming. They are sure it is bright. But what is it exactly? Well the candidates either don’t know or don’t want to say. That makes me nervous.

Despite their shared objective to add jobs, and similar strategies, they have competing plans that ensure partisan gridlock in 2013. You can tell they don’t plan to work together by their unwillingness to quantify the number of jobs they expect to create. The root of the country’s current malaise is big business and big government arguing over how to reallocate the income of US citizens.  They’re rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic.

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What Can They Do?

Your innovator team is motivated, willing and able to do anything.  That doesn’t mean you should ask them to take on a mission for which they are unprepared.  Ask yourself, what can they do better than anyone else?  Fierce competition gives your team little time to learn new skills and domains.  Put them in position to win.

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Sim Theory

Years ago, I worked with Enrico Rodrigo at Austron.  There we built precise time and frequency instruments for high capacity voice and data communications.  During this period, Enrico worked with Dr. Jim Barnes on techniques for the fine tuning of atomic frequency standards.

One day, Enrico challenged me with a question.  ”Can you prove that we are not in a computer simulation?”  He had me stumped.  Nearly 30 years later, scientists are still investigating this and other questions.

Recently, Silas Beane and his collaborators published a paper on the Constraints of the Universe as a Numerical Simulation.  They see evidence we are in a simulation.  The summary in Technology Review describes the physics as “mind-boggingly complex.”  The comments are priceless.

If you must know more, spend time at the Foundational Questions Institute.

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Presidential Debate 2012

Tonight US voters get to watch the first of three scheduled Presidential Debates.  Many will tune in seeking substance, hoping to identify what actions the candidates will take once elected.  Yet, how many just look for a train wreck of bitter invective with some drama that exposes shards of emotional truth?

I need the substance.  I want my next President to be an effective leader who gets things done.  The US has a problem.  Too many people are out of work, which means they are not paying taxes that cover the increasing burden of runaway government spending.  In this debate, I want to see each candidate’s strategy and plan for fixing it.

Both Obama and Romney have the opportunity to show their ability to lead.  I am looking for three aspects of a summary plan that expose each candidate’s potential for success.

  • What is their vision for the US?
  • What will they ask government employees and US citizens to do each day to get us there?
  • What concrete objectives do they hope to obtain in the first year?

Let’s see who has the better plan, or even has a plan to share.

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Mt Tam Fire Lookout

On a cool, clear Friday morning, Roger and I hike 4 miles with 2000 feet of elevation change to reach the 2,571 foot East Peak summit of Mt. Tamalpais.  Our destination is the Gardner Fire Lookout.  We go partly because it’s there, partly for the amazing view, and mostly because Doug has sandwiches and beer waiting.

Doug volunteers as a lookout, and goes up four times each year during the fire season.  You can too, if you know who to contact in the Marin County Fire Department.  Why might you do this? First, there is some satisfaction in contributing your time for the safety of the community. Second, you get to hang out in one of the most beautiful and peaceful places in the SF Bay Area.

This stunning video with time-lapse photography by Gary Yost (yostopia pictures) captures the spirit perfectly.

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Taleb and Niederhoffer

Nassim Taleb and Victor Niederhoffer are from the same cloth.  They are both relentlessly inquisitive, voracious readers, who speak eloquently about randomness and frauds.  Meanwhile, they themselves are in position to write because of their randomly selected success.  At least they know.

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Bursting Your Filter Bubble

The premise of The Filter Bubble, by Eli Pariser, is that Google, Amazon, Facebook, and others are giving you exactly what they think you want.  That isn’t always a good thing.  Remember the advice of Andrew Lewis (speaking as blue_beetle):

If you’re not paying for something, you’re not the customer, you’re the product being sold.

Dangerously, the consequences of targeted search results and book recommendations go beyond the benign limitation of you consumer goods choices.  Once you get fed one view, you tend to put everything you hear into that theme.  This can limit your personal creativity, leaving you in a rut.  Worst case, it’s the core of propaganda that leads to devastating social divides within a community.

Here are three simple things you can do to escape the mind control, and recover the joy of serendipitous discovery.

  • Turn off personalized search in google (&pws=0).
  • Remove all web browser cookies (CNet advice), though it’s ok and necessary to allow them for a session.
  • Use an RSS feed reader to subscribe to the blogs and news sources that expose you to a broad set of views.
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San Anselmo Patch

We live in a sleepy bedroom community, San Anselmo.  Our product is our kids.  That’s why we rally around academics and sports, drama and after school programs.  Extra dollars go to Yes! for music and arts.

Many of us most leave this “Mayberry” each day, going to work in gritty urban areas like  San Francisco, Oakland and Richmond. From our secure offices, we hear the sirens and the florid hallucinations that mark everyday insanity.

But it’s quiet in San Anselmo, and in the adjacent town of Fairfax (aka Mayberry on Acid).  Our RPs (reporting persons) keep it that way.  You can read about their efforts in the San Anselmo – Fairfax Patch.

From the Sep 14-17 Police Log, “A Possible Mountain Lion, Student Followed Home, and Juveniles Making Out,”

Juvenile problem: 6:35 p.m. San Francisco Blvd. Young kids are playing in wrecked vehicles and RP was concerned someone may get hurt. Area was checked.

From the Aug 23-27 Police Log, “A Cat Stuck in a Tree, Three Dead Raccoons and a Stolen Stop Sign,”

Cat stuck in a tree: 6:06 p.m. Cherne Lane. RP reported her neighbor’s cat was stuck up in her tree. Officer responded and found the cat was extremely high up and the owner decided to leave the cat there and if it did not come down, they would call an arborist the next day.

Town residents do chuckle at the headlines, particularly when we sense irrational fear.  Yet, we still call in as RPs from our own real concern.

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Citation Jet Pilot Safety

When you get invited to fly in a private plane operated by an amateur pilot, check your life insurance before you go up.  Fatalities occur at a rate equivalent to operating a motorcycle (over 20 per million hours).  But flying home from the CJP meeting in Coeur d’Alene in a Cessna Citation CJ3 with an owner pilot and a professional co-pilot, I was slightly less likely to be in a fatal accident than driving a passenger car home from Napa County Airport (KAPC).  How can that be?

In 2011, finance professors Matt Cain and Stephen McKeon were looking for a link between small plane pilots, risk taking and public company performance.  Along the way they collected accident statistics for a number of risky activities.  The results are useful, and interpreted through the lens that one brings.  Their published paper, CEO Personal Risk-Taking and Corporate Policies, argues that sensation-seeking business leaders often do better in business.  Innovators found their broad exposure to risk enables them to make creatively informed decisions despite market uncertainty (see Forbes).  On the other hand, investors found them too risky (see Smart Money and Yahoo).

From the meeting though, I learned that jet owner-pilots can be much safer.  Flying a Citation jet is actually a very manageable risk.  They have redundant engines and brilliant avionics.  They fly like gliders if necessary.  And when they have a two person crew that includes a professional co-pilot, the number of fatalities seen is reduced to 0.97 per million flight hours.  That’s actually less than the fatality rate of passenger cars (1.25 per million when adjusted for an average speed of 30 MPH).

It turns out that personal decision making matters.  Smart pilots don’t fly their jets into a thunderstorm, or take off with ice on the wing, or get too close to a 757.  They can’t manage the risks in these situations, and too much can go wrong too quickly.  This is an excellent principle to follow.  On the drive home from the airport, I stopped at a light on CA 29.  Two seconds after the light turned green, a pickup truck drove into the intersection at full speed against the light.  Managing my risk like a jet pilot, I had already seen the driver and kept my foot on the brake.

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Know Your Limit

After college, I decided to ski.  Living in Boulder, Colorado, this meant weekly trips to Mary Jane Ski Resort.  While quickly learning (by modeling the local experts), one sign at the top of the Challenger lift puzzled me.

Know your limit, stay within it.

It didn’t make sense.  If I stayed within my limit, I wouldn’t even be on that mountain.  My revised version became, “Know your limit, go beyond it.”

Talking last week to attendees of the annual meeting of Citation Jet Pilots, I would mention this approach to continuous improvement.  The response was, “pilots stay well within the limits.”  Not what I expected, but it made sense when put in the context of the many safety talks at the event.

Fortunately, I connected with hall-of-fame astronaut and test pilot Charles Precourt at dinner one evening.  He explained.  Test pilots take a new plane and incrementally push it to known limits, starting from a modest baseline.  Ground-based engineers study the data collected during a test flight, and identify the parameters for the next pass.  From years of pushing the envelope of new planes, the test pilot knows the limit, and stays within it.  Precourt looked me in the eye and said, “you just hadn’t found your limit yet.”

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