23 April, 2020

When U.S. air force discovered the flaw of averages


Before he crunched his numbers, the consensus among his fellow air force researchers was that the vast majority of pilots would be within the average range on most dimensions. After all, these pilots had already been pre-selected because they appeared to be average sized. (If you were, say, six foot seven, you would never have been recruited in the first place.) The scientists also expected that a sizable number of pilots would be within the average range on all 10 dimensions. But even Daniels was stunned when he tabulated the actual number.
Out of 4,063 pilots, not a single airman fit within the average range on all 10 dimensions. One pilot might have a longer-than-average arm length, but a shorter-than-average leg length. Another pilot might have a big chest but small hips. Even more astonishing, Daniels discovered that if you picked out just three of the ten dimensions of size — say, neck circumference, thigh circumference and wrist circumference — less than 3.5 per cent of pilots would be average sized on all three dimensions. Daniels’s findings were clear and incontrovertible. There was no such thing as an average pilot. If you’ve designed a cockpit to fit the average pilot, you’ve actually designed it to fit no one.

My Restaurant Was My Life for 20 Years. Does the World Need It Anymore?

By the time of the all-staff meeting after brunch that day, I knew I was right. After a couple of weeks of watching the daily sales dwindle — a $12,141 Saturday to a $4,188 Monday to a $2,093 Thursday — it was a relief to decide to pull the parachute cord. I didn’t want to have waited too long, didn’t want to crash into the trees. Our sous chef FaceTimed in, as did our lead line cook, while nearly everyone else gathered in the dining room. I looked everybody in the eye and said, “I’ve decided not to wait to see what will happen; I encourage you to call first thing in the morning for unemployment, and you have a week’s paycheck from me coming.”

22 April, 2020

A catalogue of things that are stopping change. Part III, governance.

The reality of responding to a situation like this is that things are changing day by day and hour by hour. We need to be responsive to the changing context, do the right thing for users, especially the front line and coordinate with the rest of the government. Long standing governance mechanisms like monthly board meetings, detailed risk logs and gantt charts fail to facilitate the responsiveness that we so crucially need. This certainly isn’t a time to dispense with governance but never has it been so important to implement it in a way that supports our work.
In this post, we are taking the term ‘governance’ to refer to the whole range of activities including the way people outside a team oversee, monitor, challenge, understand, support, direct, and control our work.

19 April, 2020

For Anyone Who’s Been Through It

At seven years old, more or less overnight, I went from being this little kid without a care in the world to being a person with real responsibilities. And they weren’t the type of responsibilities that I could opt out of. You take a day off from treatment….. that’s not five minutes in the timeout corner or a stern talking-to or whatever. It’s life and death. You don’t have a choice — you have to do it.
You have to show up.
So why do I bring this all up now? Not for sympathy, that I can promise you. Sympathy has never interested me. And not for attention, I can promise you that as well. I’ve never wanted any attention for my condition, and I’ve gone out of my way to make sure that I haven’t been defined by it. The reason I bring it up now is because I think that managing a condition like diabetes and reaching the highest level of a sport — reaching the highest level of anything, honestly — actually have something pretty essential in common.

18 April, 2020

How China Sees the World -- And how we should see China

The party’s leaders believe they have a narrow window of strategic opportunity to strengthen their rule and revise the international order in their favor—before China’s economy sours, before the population grows old, before other countries realize that the party is pursuing national rejuvenation at their expense, and before unanticipated events such as the coronavirus pandemic expose the vulnerabilities the party created in the race to surpass the United States and realize the China dream. The party has no intention of playing by the rules associated with international law, trade, or commerce. China’s overall strategy relies on co-option and coercion at home and abroad, as well as on concealing the nature of China’s true intentions. What makes this strategy potent and dangerous is the integrated nature of the party’s efforts across government, industry, academia, and the military.
And, on balance, the Chinese Communist Party’s goals run counter to American ideals and American interests.

11 April, 2020

A Civil Servant’s prayer

One hypothesis: frustration is simply part of the challenge. Civic technologists can easily relate their frustrations with veterans of large institutions, both public and private. Occupational disillusionment is timeless and government is not the only place where red tape abounds and “nobody likes change.”
I think there’s more to the story. The job titles got me thinking. What if “bureaucracy hacker,” “service designer,” “innovation specialist,” or “digital transformation director” imply a level of discretion and autonomy that is fundamentally incompatible with the role of civil servants?
Are in-house civic technologists holding themselves accountable for things outside their remit and mistaking head-banging frustration with fighting for real change?

10 April, 2020

Behind the Johns Hopkins University coronavirus dashboard

“It was a bit of a spur-of-the-moment decision to say, let's build out this data set and let's keep doing it, let's make it public. And let's go ahead and visualize it while we're at it. And [we] built a dashboard that night.”
The intended audience, Gardner notes, was the research community - other epidemiologists and disease modelers, for instance. But the whole world took notice. The map receives more than a billion interactions a day - a number that includes both people visualizing the map and those who are mining the underlying data, Gardner says.
The team had anticipated the numbers would be more in the order of hundreds or thousands. “I think both of us were just pretty surprised with the general public interest.”

07 April, 2020


From the point of view of the Christian faith, there is nothing necessarily wrong with concern for power. At the heart of the Protestant Reformation is the belief that ultimate power belongs to God alone and that men become most inhuman when concentrations of power lead to the conviction—overt or covert—that any nation, race or organization can rival God in this regard. At issue in the relations between whites and Negroes in America is the problem of inequality of power. Out of this imbalance grows the disrespect of white men for the Negro personality and community, and the disrespect of Negroes for themselves. This is a fundamental root of human injustice in America. In one sense, the concept of "black power" reminds us of the need for and the possibility of authentic democracy in America.

How New York City’s Emergency Ventilator Stockpile Ended Up on the Auction Block

The city’s department of health, working with the state, was to begin purchasing ventilators and to “stockpile a supply of facemasks,” according to the report. Shortly after it was released, Bloomberg held a pandemic planning summit with top federal officials, including Dr. Anthony Fauci, now the face of the national coronavirus response.
In the end, the alarming predictions failed to spur action. In the months that followed, the city acquired just 500 additional ventilators as the effort to create a larger stockpile fizzled amid budget cuts.
Even those extra ventilators are long gone, the health department said on Sunday. The lifesaving devices broke down over time and were auctioned off by the city at least five years ago because the agency couldn’t afford to maintain them.

A Leader’s Framework for Decision Making

Unfortunately, most leadership “recipes” arise from examples of good crisis management. This is a mistake, and not only because chaotic situations are mercifully rare. Though the events of September 11 were not immediately comprehensible, the crisis demanded decisive action. New York’s mayor at the time, Rudy Giuliani, demonstrated exceptional effectiveness under chaotic conditions by issuing directives and taking action to reestablish order. However, in his role as mayor—certainly one of the most complex jobs in the world—he was widely criticized for the same top-down leadership style that proved so enormously effective during the catastrophe. He was also criticized afterward for suggesting that elections be postponed so he could maintain order and stability. Indeed, a specific danger for leaders following a crisis is that some of them become less successful when the context shifts because they are not able to switch styles to match it.
Moreover, leaders who are highly successful in chaotic contexts can develop an overinflated self-image, becoming legends in their own minds. When they generate cultlike adoration, leading actually becomes harder for them because a circle of admiring supporters cuts them off from accurate information.

05 April, 2020

How ‘Unorthodox’ Captured One Woman’s Flight From Hasidic Brooklyn

Deborah Feldman left her ultra-Orthodox Jewish community for a new life in Berlin. She talked about what it has been like having her autobiography adapted for Netflix.
I remember being surprised when I went to Sarah Lawrence, and I took a class on feminist philosophy in which everybody told me, “You left the patriarchy!” I was like: “Well, if I left the patriarchy, where were all the men in this patriarchy? Why were they always bent over books while the people who oppressed me were women? Why was it that the people who hurt me the most were my aunt, mother-in-law, female teachers, the female mikvah attendant, the female Kallah teacher and the female sex therapist? Why was it always the women that I felt hurt and betrayed by?” I had so little interaction with men, and the little I had made me see men as very passive and stuck.