Before you think I am hating on the Chinese people or Asian-Americans, please go and read this article, “In China, families bet it all on college education for their children.”
Assuming you didn’t read it, I’ll summarize. The Wus have one daughter who studies 13 hours a day and still graduated 16th in her class of 40.
“For nearly two decades, they have lived in a cramped and drafty 200-square-foot house with a thatch roof. They have never owned a car. They do not take vacations — they have never seen the ocean. They have skipped traditional New Year trips to their ancestral village for up to five straight years to save on bus fares and gifts, and for Mr. Wu to earn extra holiday pay in the mines. Despite their frugality, they have essentially no retirement savings.”
They moved away from their village, Mr. Wu spent his life working a coal mine, his wife does farm work in season and works as a retail clerk, with all of her earnings from both jobs going to pay for their daughter’s schooling.
“But studying is almost all that Ms. Wu does. She says she still has no boyfriend:
The big question for Ms. Wu and her family lies in what she will do on graduation. She has chosen to major in logistics, learning how goods are distributed, a growing industry in China as ever more families order online instead of visiting stores.
But the major is the most popular at her school, which could signal a future glut in the field. …. Among those who graduated last spring from her polytechnic, she said, “50 or 60 percent of them still do not have a job.”
Mrs. Cao is already worried. The family home across the road from the abandoned coal mine is starting to deteriorate in the wind and acrid pollution, and they have scant savings to rebuild it.”
Does this sound like a good deal to you?
I read a really good book lately, Be Good, by Randy Cohen, a New York Times columnist on ethics, and was very amused by his comment,
“I’ve disagreed with every word David Brooks ever wrote for this newspaper.”
Now, David Brooks is one of those people who blithely assumes that Chinese education is superior. It’s comments like these from his column this week that makes me wonder if he reads the newspaper that employs him.
Moreover, today’s students harbor the anxiety that in the race for global accomplishment, they may no longer be the best competitors. Chinese students spend 12-hour days in school, while American scores are middle of the pack.
Mr. Brooks is one of those who makes the assumption that more = better. But, doesn’t it? Isn’t it true that you need to study 14 hours a day with tutors and Saturday classes so you get perfect SAT scores if you want to get into one of the Ivies if you want to ever make it in a hedge fund or graduate school at another one of the Ivies if you want to make a LOT of money or be interviewed on public television?
There are a lot of ifs in that sentence, so let’s start with that.
Who says that the pinnacle of achievement is getting into MIT and making a shitload of money. Actually, I don’t have anything against MIT, either, my other company is demo-ing at their In-NOW-vation event in April . (Yes, I co-founded another company. You can read about it here.)
My youngest daughter is upstairs with four other fifteen-year-olds laughing about something I’m sure I would think is stupid. She is on spring break. She spent one day watching TV and last night she had her friends sleep over. She isn’t much of a slacker.
She received a scholarship to a very good private college preparatory school where she boards during the week and comes home on weekends. She made the honor roll her first three quarters, although she did NOT make a 4.0 which displeased us a little, because she made a B in Geometry. She is getting better about it. She takes pictures of her Geometry homework if she has a problem and texts it to her father for advice.
She also played varsity soccer as a freshman, attended confirmation class and volunteered to serve meals at the homeless shelter and cleaned up the cemetery (it was a school activity).
And we went on vacation twice this year. Once (above) was to visit her grandmother on her father’s side, and then on to visit her oldest sister and her family. They took her snowboarding with them.
Our other vacation was with my mom, to visit the relatives on the other side of the family. Mom is almost 80 years old and didn’t want to go by herself. We stopped at the Chateau Frontenac on the way to Halifax.
Who is losing and what exactly is she losing? It seems to me that she has a great life. Maybe this sounds like the ant and the grasshopper story, because sure, it’s good now, but what about when she applies to college and doesn’t get into Harvard? What then, huh?
Well, the oldest sister went to NYU (not Harvard). Worked for Sports Illustrated, then ESPN, and we lured her away from journalism after ten years to co-found a company with me to make educational games. She’s our new Chief Marketing Officer at 7 Generation Games, doing one hell of a job and seems to have a pretty great life.
The second sister went to Santa Monica College, then San Francisco State University, then got a masters at USC. She’s teaching middle school social studies, which is the exact job she has wanted since eighth grade, doing one hell of a job and seems to have a pretty great life.
The third sister went to two Olympics, is currently the women’s world champion in mixed martial arts, and seems to have a pretty great life. She’s also doing some TV show now.
My point is, it is pretty darn hard to see my kids as losers and Ms. Wu as a winner. The young woman at Yale who wrote the essay Mr. Brooks mentions is a winner by his definition and I wish both her and Ms. Wu well. However, I literally laughed out loud at her conclusion,
“Time not spent investing in yourself carries an opportunity cost, rendering you at a competitive disadvantage as compared to others who maintained the priority of self.”
A competitive disadvantage in competing FOR WHAT? What are you winning? Because for a bunch of losers, I think we’re doing pretty fucking awesome.
I track statistics on my blogs, of course, both this one and my personal blog, which often discusses judo and other martial arts. Normally, this blog has three times as many visitors. Despite what graduate students imply, most people are more interested in statistics than in getting knocked down or punched in the face. A couple of days ago, though,the visits to my judo blog were way up, almost as high as this one. About the same time, several people I’d never met tweeted or emailed to me,
“No one has the right to beat you. Thank you for my favorite quote ever!”
“No one has the right to beat you! I’m sure you meant that literally, but I’m taking it metaphorically and applying it to my life.”
I was bewildered because that IS one of the things I used to say to my daughters all the time,
No one has the right to beat you.
I meant it literally. No one has the right to defeat you in competition. I also meant it in the sense that no one has the right to lift a hand against you. I always told all of my girls, if anyone ever hits you, pick up the largest, sharpest thing you can find and hit them back as hard as you can. I will bail you out of jail, come to the principal’s office and deal with any adults in your life, whatever, but
No one has the right to beat you -ever – no matter what.
I know that doesn’t sit well with the yuppie mommy set, “We use our words”. Yeah, well, you tell the big kid how mean he is and I’ll hit him with a brick and we’ll see which one of us he tries to pick on at lunch time next week. I am sure right now my oldest daughter, who lives in Cambridge, MA – the exact geographic center of yuppie motherhood – is second-guessing her decision to leave the care of her two children to me next month and is frantically searching the fine print to see if perhaps her tickets to Europe might be refundable after all.
But, I digress.
I was wondering how the heck all of these people I had never met knew about advice I would give my daughters and why the spike in web site visits. It turned out that I had been so busy working on THE GAME to get our beta version out by Monday to all of our Kickstarter backers that I had completely missed the fact that darling daughter #3 was a guest coach on the TV show The Ultimate Fighter and gave a pep talk that included words of advice from good old mom. Mystery solved, and I did eventually watch the show, since our Tivo is programed to record anything with Ronda’s name in it.
What this has to do with math and programming – I get pissed off pretty regularly about reports in the media that talk about how much Americans suck at math, at programming. The latest bullshit was some article about how Vietnamese 11th graders could all pass exams given to Google engineers. Then I read another article about the gaokao (the test Chinese students take to get into university) in the Wall Street Journal with this quote,
“When I prepped for the GRE, I didn’t study for the math part at all. In China, the U.S. standardized math requirement is junior middle-school level stuff.”
Um, fuck you. In America, most people don’t consider it appropriate to go on about how country X is so stupid that our kids are doing in junior high what they can’t master until graduate school, ha ha ha you’re so dumb. Why is it considered acceptable for people to continually say that the average student in country X is smarter than American engineers? Why is it not racist to say we’re all stupid but it is racist when I say that’s a bunch of crap? You might say, “Well, it’s true, just look at the test scores.”
No one has the right to beat you and they don’t have the right to talk shit about you without being called on it, either. Coincidentally, I did my dissertation in 1990 on standardized testing, specifically, on construct validity (which is the extent to which a test measures what it claims to test). It turns out that items on standardized tests are not handed down by God on a set of stone tablets but rather are made up by some group of people. While standardized tests may do well at predicting how well people do on other tests, they are not all that great at predicting other things, and when they are, some of that is a self-fulfilling prophecy. That is, if we don’t let you into college unless you do well on a test, and then you don’t make as much money as someone who did go to college, was it whatever the test measured, or your lack of college education that made the difference?
I’m just wondering if every Vietnamese high school is full of people who could be engineers at Google why Google wasn’t founded in Vietnam. It’s really a very legitimate question to ask.
In between, I worked on a database for a client, which is almost done, and the statistical analysis of experimental data for another client. I have to get back to a doctoral student’s question about how to use SAS to analyze her data. Not all Americans are stupid and lazy. Not all Americans are bad at math and programming and it is insulting to imply that.
We’re doing a kick-ass job on this game, and even the younger people in our company are not so young. We’ve got a couple doing historical research and testing in their mid-twenties, but the rest are from 30 on up. The majority of our staff is Hispanic or Native American, just because we tended to hire people we knew were really good – which means people that we knew.
What really, really pisses me off though is how many young and not-so-young people have internalized that constant drumbeat of how bad Americans are at math and programming and how we can’t do it. If you look at Microsoft, Apple, Facebook – they were all started by Americans. One of my favorite tech company success stories is lynda.com, founded by Lynda Weinman who, the story goes, learned programming by reading the Apple II manual. No, she didn’t go to MIT which she got into based on perfect SAT scores.
It just makes me livid when I have managers tell me that they need to get more H1B visas because they cannot find programmers in the United States. The reason this infuriates me is that those managers generally have an entire building full of people, at least some of whom could learn to code and be good at it, with just some support and encouragement.
Decades ago, when I got my first engineering position, I was told that I couldn’t have the job because I did not have a masters in mathematics (I had an MBA). Since they didn’t have anyone else that knew the esoteric programming languages they were using, I got the job when the person who had it left and did well enough to get promoted within a year. I’ve been told I wasn’t “really” a programmer because I didn’t use COBOL, then because I didn’t use C. Through it all, I’ve learned one language after another and written stuff in it that actually works.
It seems like we’re constantly being given messages about how we’re not good enough. I don’t know if it is because some managers are just clueless about what programming entails or they want to convince people to take a lower salary by emphasizing what they can’t do.
What I do know is this … No one has the right to defeat you, to tell you what you can’t do. If you are white, black, old, female,Hispanic, American or whatever other demographic doesn’t fit with the “good at math and programming” … screw that – do it anyway.
So that is #16 of the things I have learned in (almost) 55 years.
” … we may then define intellect in general as the power of good response from the point of view of truth or fact.” – Thorndike, 1921
Edward Tufte impresses me. His books on visual data show him as possessing in copious amounts that very rare commodity – truly original thoughts . So, when he tweeted the other day that this paper by Hill was “probably the best paper ever about making causal inference about human behavior”, of course I had to read it.
This got me to wondering about how we know something is true and led me to another thing I have learned in (almost) 55 years.
#15: Just because you believe something passionately doesn’t make it true.
Sometimes it might. If you believe passionately that you can earn a Ph.D. , win a gold medal in the world judo championships, run a marathon or swim the English channel, perhaps you can make it true. However, no matter how much you like your cigarettes, no matter how strongly you believe that tobacco is good for you because it is “natural”, the data are not on your side.
When a correlation between two characteristics is observed, it is common for people who don’t want that relationship to exist to object,
“Correlation doesn’t prove causation”
That is completely true. That is also not the same thing as correlation being unrelated to causation. Correlation can provide SUPPORT for a hypothesis of causation, although it is true that it cannot provide proof. In other words, we have more confidence to believe that some things are good, more than others, from the point of view of truth or fact. Statisticians even quantify that degree of confidence in something called a confidence interval.
In his paper, Hill discusses the strength of the association found. If the death rate of the population of people in an area with a very high rate of air pollution is 14 times higher than in another area with a low rate of air pollution, then we have more confidence of a possible causal relationship than if it is 1.14 times higher.
He also discusses replication and consistency. If you can find one or two studies on a topic that support your belief, that doesn’t make it true. There is a lot more in Hill’s article. It’s both short and brilliant. You should read it.
My dissertation advisor, the late Dr. Richard Eyman, gave me a lot of profound advice. One piece of it was
When the results don’t come out the way you expect, check everything over again. Make sure your measures are reliable and valid. Check for outliers and re-run your analyses without them. Go over everything again and look for threats to the validity of your design – the treatment was administered as you expected, the tests were administered according to the standard procedures. Run your study again and see if you get the same results. And when your results do come out the way you expect – DO THE EXACT SAME THING!
Just because you believe it, doesn’t make it true.
For #14 of the things I have learned in (almost) 55 years, click here. I’m trying to get to 55 by the time I turn 55 in August. I believe I can do it!
There has been far more heat than light surrounding the current controversy over whether a transgender (male to female) fighter should be allowed to compete in mixed martial arts in the women’s division.
This article on The Verge said that opponents of Ms. Fox competition “are not supported by the current science”, citing the fact that the International Olympic Committee allows transgender athletes to compete under certain conditions – set number of years post-surgery, hormonal therapy.
Since mixed martial arts is not an Olympic sport whatever science on which this decision was based most likely did not include any studies involving mixed martial arts. I say most likely because although I asked on my other (personal blog), where I write about sports a lot for citations of this supposedly voluminous scientific literature no one provided me any relevant references and I did not uncover any searching the National Library of Medicine database. A few people did send me references to articles on hormonal therapy but none of these even discussed the issue of sports participation. Their focus instead was on the possible side effects, e.g. cancer or other ill effects, of people with various hormone regimens.
The most reasoned discussion on this topic I have read is on Dr. Rosi Sexton’s blog, and I agree with her three main points:
- There is not much at all in the way of data documenting whether or not Ms. Fox has an advantage competing in martial arts. Expert opinion is split on this issue.
- No one has a right to compete in mixed martial arts. There are all kinds of qualifications – you have to be a certain weight and gender to compete in a division. You can’t be pregnant.
- Mixed martial arts are different than say, canoeing, because you are trying to do bodily harm to your opponent. Unlike in many sports, a Type I error – rejecting a true null hypothesis – is likely to cause harm to others.
Read her blog. It’s good. Personally, I want to address a couple of other points. On twitter, Shelly Summers made the comment that it was difficult to dispute that Fallon Fox (or any transgender fighter) does not have an advantage unless it is spelled out exactly what her advantage is supposed to be. Now here I’m on firmer ground at least because we can couch this in terms of an equation. Logistic regression would be best, with win or loss as the dependent variable. The question then is what are the independent variables. This might seem a straightforward question but it’s not. Let’s start with what should be obvious.
1. Different sports have different requirements for success. Males don’t seem to have an advantage in equestrian – the sport is mixed gender in the Olympics. We have separate shooting events for men and women, but I don’t know why. Winning the marathon requires more endurance. Winning a gold medal in weight-lifting requires more strength. Women tend to do better in long-distance swimming. Men are better at football. Height is an advantage in some sports (basketball, volleyball) and not in others. I could go on, but you get the point, I hope, which is that you cannot generalize about “sports”.
2. Even in the sports like football, baseball and basketball where millions of dollars are spent on data analysis, the predictions are far from perfect.
3. There are several variables that predict athletic success, including in mixed martial arts.
I know a lot more about judo than mixed martial arts specifically, but there is some overlap, so let’s look at what you certainly need:
- Physical strength. While technique will beat strength, if other things are equal, the match goes to the person with more strength. It’s like using steroids – it doesn’t guarantee you the win, but it gives you an edge. People have argued that the hormonal levels of transgender females are no different than those born female. A more relevant test would be measures of physical strength. Given that two people of the same weight engaged in the same strength and conditioning program would there be a difference in measures of strength like the maximum weight in the bench press, dead lift , the maximum number of repetitions at a given weight, recovery after a given rest period, etc.? I don’t know. It might also be hard to assess this if people knew they were being studied because either person might consciously or subconsciously lift less and affect the results. This is why researchers favor double-blind studies where neither those collecting the data nor those giving it know if they are in the experimental or control group. The only way I see you could do this though, is through deception, e.g., telling both parties you were assessing the effect of a specific hormone regimen. Regardless, as far as I know these type of data are not available from well-controlled (or really, any) studies.
- Endurance. A judo competition is several matches of four minutes each, usually with a rest period of 10- 60 minutes in between. Mixed martial arts matches are either three or five five-minute rounds, with short rests in between. An indirect measure might be something like lung capacity, but a more direct measure would include things like resting heart rate immediately after each round. Physiological measures are not my specialization, but I cannot imagine any way in which direct measures would not be preferable to indirect ones. Again, this is an area where I am not aware of any research, certainly not for MMA specifically.
- Reach. I can guarantee this from having fought for years – and having won a world championships, I fought at a pretty high level – competitors who have a much longer reach have an advantage.
- Psychological factors. If you have watched many combat sports at all, you have seen those matches where someone should not have won and yet they did. This is something every top athlete has, that absolute refusal to lose.
- Speed. If you can beat your opponent to the punch every time (figuratively as well as literally) you will win.
Have there been studies establishing transgender female mixed martial artists and other female mixed martial artists on these characteristics? I’m almost certain not. If we don’t have any evidence that Ms. Fox does NOT have an advantage, it would make sense to agree with Dr. Sexton that it is best to err on the side of the safety of the other women in the division and disallow her competition.
One thing did immediately strike me when I heard about this story that made me say — wait a minute. Fallon Fox is 37 years old. How many professional competitors in women’s mixed martial arts are 37 or older ? I looked up the women’s rankings in the Fight Matrix for the 145 and 135 lb divisions. I added Ms. Fox into the mix, and to be fair, I also added Peggy Morgan, the woman who would have been her opponent in her next bout, except she has announced she refuses to fight Ms. Fox. While MMA Junkie lists Ms. Fox age as 43, other sources list it as 37, so I used the lower age. To give one more data point, I added Marina Shafir who just won her fight tonight and is the same division as Ms. Fox. Since Marina is only 24, I calculated the results with and without her. Still significant.
Here is the age distribution for those 30 women.
There is exactly one woman older than Fallon Fox among those competitors – Hitomi Akano. Ms. Akano lost her last two fights . ** NOTE CORRECTED ON 3/27/2013 see comment below.
The average age of the other 29 fighters was 29.21. Using a z-test with this as the population value and the population standard deviation of 3.9 gives a z-value of 1.99. If we were conducting a one-tailed test of the hypothesis that Fox is significantly older (based on an assumption that a transgender female would have an advantage and be competitive at a later age) we would reject the null hypothesis as the critical value of a one-tailed test is 1.64. However, if we were to use the more rigorous two-tailed test and say our alternate hypothesis is that being transgender could be an advantage or disadvantage, we’d still accept the null hypothesis as the z-value is greater than 1.96
At most we can say there is slight evidence for an advantage, and that based on a small amount of data.
We can note that in this sample, as Ms. Akano has not won a fight since she was 36, there is exactly one person in here with a winning record after age 36, and that is Ms Fox. There are nine fighters in this sample that have winning record of 100%. The other eight fighters range in age from 24 to 33 with an average age of 28.9 years.
What we can say from this admittedly small sample of data is that Ms. Fox appears to be winning decisively at an age that is significantly older than the average female competitor in or near her weight division. At least as far as the age at which she is successful in competition, Ms. Fox DOES appear to be significantly different than a sample of mixed martial arts fighters who were born female. Could this be because she is more determined, trains harder, wants it more or just has an amazing coaching team? Yes, it could. Could it be because we only have a small sample which could be non-representative of women mixed martial arts fighters? Yes, it could. I’d be happy to do a large, well-controlled study with lots of variables, but it turns out that I have to get back to doing the analyses for which people pay me money.
Anyone else is welcome to find their own data, list their sources and post it or publish it wherever they like. Please give a link in the comments if you do. What I did was use the data that was available to me and actually looked at female mixed martial artists and performance. What I did not do was consider data on hormones, law, a hypothesized set of data that somebody must have had somewhere before making a policy and not someone’s opinion on what people should or should not do in their private lives.
More interesting to me than the spate of articles on the decision of Yahoo to eliminate the option of working from home has been the comments on these articles. I should have followed the advice I give my children,
“Never read the bottom half of the internet.”
Too late – and I will never get back the wasted minutes reading comments written by the descendants of Simon Legree
You spoiled entitled slobs are lucky to have a job! Don’t come into work ever again. There are plenty of people in this economy who would be happy to do your job for less money than you are making and show up at 5 a.m. It’s about damn time that someone cracked the whip on you! You’re just lucky your jobs haven’t been outsourced to someone who is a real worker who is willing to work for 42 cents an hour seven days a week, 14 hours a day ….
I just sent out a contract for artwork to someone in Philadelphia. Our Chief Marketing Officer we hired in January lives in Massachusetts.Our animator lives in San Francisco. A programmer who helped us out when we got overbooked last year lives in North Carolina. We’re really hoping to be able to hire him to work with us again this fall. We have two consultants in North Dakota, one of whom is coming to Santa Monica next month. In May, I’ll be in San Francisco, North Dakota and Massachusetts.
There are actually only four of us that work in Santa Monica on a regular basis, and one is the woman that cleans the place. My assistant lives about an hour away and usually comes in once a week, although she is available to come more often if needed. My husband, who has been seen so seldom since he retired from making things in black boxes that we have started calling him The Invisible Developer, has an on office upstairs. I’m pretty relaxed about things but I have put my foot down that before he comes downstairs when either co-workers or clients are here that he WILL shower, shave and put on clothes rather than come downstairs in his bathrobe. He is rebelling against such authoritarianism by staying upstairs for most of his life. Friends refer to him as “your alleged husband” , since they see him about once a decade.
Business is good. We pay taxes in four or five states most years. I had a book published this year – unrelated to business, it’s on matwork in judo and mixed martial arts – and we donated the proceeds to charity.
There are two reasons we hire people who work from home.
One is that it pays off for us.
Here is an example of a poster one of our artists did. It wasn’t part of his contract. He put it together using some of the art he did for the game and I saw it on Facebook, offered him a price for the right to use it as an award for those who backed our game on Kickstarter.
I’m the exact opposite of those commenters on the work-from-home articles. I don’t think the people who work for us are lucky to have a job. I think we are lucky to have them. That’s the exact kind of people I want to work with – people who could get another job in a heartbeat but choose to work for us. If you are extraordinarily good at your job, it’s always a good economy for you. We’re a small company. I can’t outbid Yahoo or General Motors for talent. What I can do is offer other consideration. Would you like to work from home? Do you do your best work from 5 a.m. to 1 pm? Do you need to adjust your hours to accommodate small children? We can do that and if Yahoo or some other company won’t then maybe we can steal you away from them.
The second is that this is the kind of people and kind of company we want to be. I have that old Golden Rule idea. I treat people the way I want to be treated. Many years ago, I was sitting in Union Station with one of my business partners drinking champagne. Our company, Spirit Lake Consulting, Inc. had hit a million dollars in contracts, within less than two years of being founded. He was waiting to go up to a photo shoot with one of the senators from North Dakota and I had a meeting scheduled with agency personnel to discuss our latest project. He turned to me and expressed my feelings exactly,
If you had told me when I was a ten-year-old boy growing up on the reservation that this would be my life, I wouldn’t have believed you.
Well, I didn’t grow up on a reservation, but my point is the same, we have a great life, and rather than try to squeeze every last drop of work out of our employees and make the absolute highest profit, we want the people we work with to have a great life, too. We try to charge as little as possible for our products so that more schools can use our games – Kickstarter funding will allow us to give Spirit Lake: The Game free to twenty schools. Our consulting fees are below average, but that allows us to consult with dental schools, vocational rehabilitation projects and universities. Yes, we’d make more if we were consultants for Coca-Cola , tobacco companies and defendants in anti-trust suits, but so be it.
I work downstairs in my house. It’s very convenient because that’s where all of my stuff is, and besides that, I don’t have to drive two or three hours a day in rush hour traffic in L.A. Also, I hate mornings.
I’m sure those same commenters would tell me that is a terrible attitude for a business that has a responsibility to shareholders. At the moment, the shares are held by me and said CMO in Massachusetts and we are pretty damn happy. We have met with potential investors a few times, and perhaps our “bad attitude” is the reason we haven’t done any deals yet. Oh, no wait, it isn’t. The main reason is that we have not yet reached the point where we need to give up any equity in the company, and we don’t intend to until we absolutely must. Any investors that expect us to treat our employees like they are small children that need to “be kept an eye on” definitely won’t be a good fit.
In February, I had a book published and submitted two federal grants. In March, I’ve done the design for our next computer game, had clients in for three days of training, designed and wrote much of a database to a client specification and rewrote the part of the game that does assessment and testing. I get an amazing amount of shit done and I think it is not at all coincidental that I am very happy with my life AND I’ve made money running one business or another for 28 years straight.
If we end up with investors who buy into that kind of company, that would be great.
On the other hand, my fall back plan is to do what I’m doing now – live by the beach, design computer games and write.
Tell me again, why exactly was it that I needed to drive into the office?
I’m not much for reading management blogs. Most of them are just a collection of worn-out cliches, but the fifth of Cristina’s Five Things You Wish You Could Say to Employees, really caught my eye.
5. Your Work Is Sloppy! OK, don’t use the “s” word, it has all sorts of negative baggage. Employees who have this problem are usually aware that they are not “detail-oriented” and a more gentle reminder will work better. Here are some goals to address this issue: “Focus on tying up all loose ends before closing out or submitting a project.” Or, “Regularly employ to-do lists and checklists in order to ensure peace of mind that no step was skipped or overlooked.
I don’t understand why many people who would be terribly bothered if they had to admit, “I don’t read very well”, think it is okay to say, “I’m bad at math” . Similarly, I am confused by the number of people who say, almost proudly, “I’m not a detail person.” I THINK they see being focused on the details, like whether or not the punctuation goes inside or outside of the quotation marks as one type of person and seeing “the big picture” , like coming up with an idea for a research grant, as two mutually exclusive possibilities.
Anyone who tells me, “I am not a detail person” better have some GREAT (and I do mean GREAT) strengths in other areas for me to overlook that. Cristina Parisi put it perfectly. When you say you are not a detail person, it means that you leave work for other people to clean up behind you. For example, I knew a programmer who invariably had two or three misspelled words on every page that he wrote – email, documentation, memos – not because English was his second language or any type of disability – he simply didn’t take the time to proof-read. Because we did not want documents sent out to clients or upper management to be peppered with misspelled words, someone else would always correct his work before sending it on. He often had problems with getting applications to function correctly. He would write a program that the logic made sense, there were no syntax errors, but the program just did not work. Invariably, there would be some detail he had overlooked, like that the password to access the data changed every 90 days and he had not changed it in his code. Because he was such a nice guy, when I found those problems the first several times, I fixed them. After that, I started pointing out – “You know, the directory was changed three weeks ago and that is why your code isn’t working.”
He never did see that HE had a problem and he couldn’t understand why he didn’t get promoted faster. He was definitely intelligent and very knowledgable about technology. From his point of view, he did what he was supposed to do – wrote a program, wrote a memo – and got it done on time. He couldn’t be bothered with the details of knowing whether the passwords were changed or the data were moved. That was someone else’s job.
There are people like him in every field, people who write a grant proposal – except that it is five pages over the twenty-page limit, lacks a budget and has no references cited. In other words – you left the work of finishing it up for ME to do – and often, finishing it up takes longer than any work you put into it (but that’s a detail you wouldn’t worry about, now is it?)
What those “non-detail” people don’t see is that they are often perceived as arrogant, that they assume that other people will clean up after them. Maybe that is why people feel it is okay to “not be detail-oriented”, because from their point of view, the president of General Motors or Microsoft or the United States doesn’t know all of the details of what company manufactures the spark plugs, the name of every file in the operating system or the location of every tank.
That may be so.
But you’re not him – and you’re irritating the hell out of your colleagues.
When I was an undergraduate, I argued with my professor about the management theory that said it was not necessary to understand the business to be an effective manager but only to understand management. The example he gave (and that I never accepted) was of a carriage in the park. The driver of the carriage has never been the horse and he cannot pull the carriage like the horse. He just needs to understand the horse’s motivation and either use the carrot or the stick to get the horse to do the job.
Here is where that analogy falls down – the carriage driver knows exactly where he wants to go, how fast he wants to go, where he wants to turn and so on. This is not so true with managers of programmers.
I was thinking about this topic today as I rewrote a part of our game. We had originally used surveymonkey, because we had a deadline to meet to deliver and test a prototype. That being done, we sat down to re-write a portion of the testing to make it better.
The design is as follows:
- The student is given a problem of moderate difficulty.
- If incorrect, the student gets the easiest problem in the domain (Q1)
- If the student gets the easiest problem incorrect, the student exits the test and gets sent to study. There is no point in attempting several more difficult problems if he or she has failed on the medium and easy problems.
- If correct at the beginning problem, the student gets sent to one of slightly greater difficulty.
- If the student gets the more difficult problem correct, the next is of even greater difficulty, and so on
- Any time the student misses two consecutive problems, the test exits.
- The student must get five problems correctly, increasing in difficulty to the last problem. When it becomes mathematically impossible to get five problems correctly, the test exits.
- If the student answers five problems correctly, in increasing difficulty, including the last problem, it is a success and the student can go on to the next part of the game.
There are three advantages to this:
- When we add new tests, it will be very fast and easy.
- Documentation of all of the test files is easier, because all that is left in those files is just some forms that call the function in this one scoring file.
- I only need to test the code and get it working once.
We only have about 40 tests at this point but within the next few months we will have hundreds. The extra time I spent today to rewrite the code from the first test that worked to be more generalizable will pay off greatly. However, if I had a non-programming manager, how would he or she know that I unless I explained it? To what extent is it reasonable to expect that the people you supervise to you should be explaining to you what they did and why? Would I even have thought of explaining it? Would the supervisor have even thought to have asked? I completed what needed to be done to get the tests to work as diagrammed, within the time frame, but one way of doing it was far superior to another.
I’m not complaining mind you. I did the original design because I knew we had a short deadline, and then I did the re-design and coded it. This isn’t a rhetorical question. I really am wondering about this, because I have worked for pretty good people almost all of my life, including a couple of really terrific bosses. Both had technical backgrounds, but while one had a degree in computer science, the second came from mechanical engineering and couldn’t write an IF statement. What the latter did, though, was find the technical staff with the very best reputations, recruit them to come work for him and spend much of his time sailing or playing golf. I remember his recruitment pitch went something like this:
Everyone says you are really, really good. I figure most technical people in this company are under-valued so I’m on a mission to get the very best people to work in my group. They make me look good and I will do whatever I can to make them happy – higher salary, travel budget, better equipment – anything short of whisky and hookers, you name it and I’ll get it for you. Well, you’re a woman so I guess you wouldn’t want hookers, would you?
He was very successful for a long time and moved up in management quite rapidly. I eventually moved away and lost track of him.
Yet again today, I spent a while trying to figure out an error that had me smacking my forehead at the end.
Here was the problem, I am testing a fairly simple database – adds records, updates, selects, does some error checking as you enter the data, typical stuff. To test it, I have a small table with a few records.
I enter the value for record #1 and it retrieves the data fine and everything looks perfect.
I enter the value for record #2 and it retrieves the data for record #1 ! Obviously, I have, in my testing, hard-coded the value for record #1, right? Wrong.
I have this:
$select_query = “SELECT * FROM clients WHERE id = ” . $id ;
I used this on the test data set previously and it was perfectly fine. I had used this for a different application and it worked fine. Finally, I tried a third record and found the error.
Here is what happened:
1. The previous application where I had used this had numeric ID values 111, 112 etc.
2. The current client has no specific requirements for an ID except that it must be unique. Some employees enter customers as 111. Others enter AAA or Bob. IDs are permanent and cannot be re-used. (Hey, this was not MY idea!)
3. If a customer is dropped for any reason and becomes inactive, then next year becomes active again, they are counted as a “new” customer, for the purpose of recording how many new customers were added this year. However, we still want to have some way of matching them with their history. So, they get a new record with -01 added to their ID. If they drop out and come back into the system again, the next time would have a -02 and so on.
It just so happened that the first record had an ID of 1123 and the second was 1124-01
Since $id was being read as a numeric variable, 1124-01 resolved to 1123 . If not for the coincidence of these two being entered consecutively, I probably would have spotted the error much quicker. When I got an error again when I entered AAA for an id, but not when I entered 1111, the problem was obvious. I changed my code as below, and life was good again.
$select_query = “SELECT * FROM clients WHERE id = ‘$id’ “;
Now I can put this aside for a while and go back to working on the game.
Apparently, I skipped from #7 to #9, so here are two more things I have learned in 55 years bringing me up to 13.
#8 Kindness is never wasted
Over the years, I have donated a lot of money, anonymously, to various causes. In more cases than I want to admit, I have seen signs that it was misplaced – the scholarship donor quit school, the athlete really did not train all that hard, the recipient bought a car or went on a trip overseas, making me wonder if they really needed the assistance . Maybe it is helping a person out who, when I needed assistance, didn’t lift a finger. Yet, I still give my time and money whenever I can. Today, my darling daughter #3 did a mixed martial arts seminar that raised over $11,000 for a mental health clinic to assist people with eating disorders. Certainly some of the people who attended the seminar benefited. Maybe others did not. However, they may have been a partner for those people who did learn something.At the very least, they donated $200 to the mental health clinic as the price of attendance. Maybe some people who are in the Didi Hirsch residential program will not get anything out of the services and be just as ill as previously. There are five reasons kindness is never wasted:
- SOME people may benefit from your acts of kindness, even if not everyone does. Since you cannot predict, you help whenever you can.
- Sometimes people benefit indirectly from your kindness. For example, even if someone came to the seminar, did not learn a thing and never stepped on the mat again, their presence may have helped someone else, either as a bad example (“I never want to be as out of shape as that guy!”) , by being a willing partner for the other person to use to learn, or simply by donating money to attend that then went to a good cause.
- You serve as a good example to others, who may decide to give of their own time or resources, or to just be a little more understanding when dealing with other people.
- It’s about being the kind of person you want to be. You want to be the kind of person who tries to help people in need and to be good to people whenever you can.
The fifth reason is also
#13 You never know the reach you have had
After Ronda’s fight last month, darling daughter #2, also known as “The Perfect Jennifer” commented that she was the least accomplished of my children. Ronda is a world champion in mixed martial arts and Maria is an award-winning journalist who has been published in two languages and on three continents.
I told Jenn that nothing could be further than the truth. She teaches in an inner city middle school. Truly smack in the middle of the city. Her students respect her and really do their best to achieve in her class. It shows on their standardized test scores, in their behavior in her classroom and in their work adorning the walls. When I went to visit her class, I thought she had made the posters and flyers on the wall – “political ads” supporting the Magna Carta.
I told her that when you talk to people about who made a real difference in their lives, it’s seldom some sports or literary figure, and far, far more often a teacher. There are several teachers I can remember as significant in my life – my eighth-grade social studies teacher who told me that it was time to stop saying I could do all of the work and start to prove it by doing it. I’m still not a big fan of history, but I never forgot his lesson about no one having earned a reputation on what they were going to do. Pretty much every math teacher I ever had from sixth-grade on sticks out in my memory. Sister Marion, who I am sure passed away many, many years ago was the first. She gave me math textbooks to take home after I had finished all of the sixth grade work, so I could learn more. I did very, very few problems in those books because – hey, I was in sixth-grade and there were more exciting things in life – but that confidence that I should be good at math has stuck with me for the next forty years.
I’ve had a pretty wonderful life, in part because I benefited greatly from scholarships to Logos High School, Washington University in St. Louis, the University of Minnesota and the University of California, Riverside. I wasn’t always the most rewarding student. In fact, until graduate school, I went to more parties than I did classes. Because of those scholarships, though, I am in a position now where I can give back. I am sure my high school teachers would have considered me one of those students on whom their kindness was wasted.
Which just goes to show, you never know.
In my defense, the actual program is longer than this …
// Create variables ;
$id = strtoupper(trim($_REQUEST[‘id’])) ;
$application_date = $_REQUEST[‘yr_of_apply’] . “-” . $_REQUEST[‘month_of_apply’] .”-“. $_REQUEST[‘day_of_apply’] ;
$assessment_date = $_REQUEST[‘yr_of_assess’]. “-” . $_REQUEST[‘month_of_assess’] .”-“. $_REQUEST[‘day_of_assess’] ;
$eligibility_date = $_REQUEST[‘yr_eligible’].”-“.$_REQUEST[‘month_eligible’] .”-“. $_REQUEST[‘day_eligible’] ;
$ipe_date = $_REQUEST[‘yr_ipe’].”-“.$_REQUEST[‘month_ipe’] .”-“. $_REQUEST[‘day_ipe’] ;
$notify_rights = $_REQUEST[‘notify_rights’] ;
$vocational_goal = $_REQUEST[‘vocational_goal’] ;
// Get user info ;
$result = mysql_query(“UPDATE clients SET notify_rights = ‘$notify_rights’, vocational_goal = ‘$vocational_goal’ ,
application_date = ‘$application_date’ , assessment_date = ‘$assessment_date’
WHERE id = ‘$id'”)
or die(mysql_error()) ;
echo “<p>Your record was updated successfully.</p>” ;
So, it didn’t work. All I wanted to do was connect to the SQL database, find the client’s id and update that record with the application information.
First problem I found was that I had tested this with a much smaller file with just a few columns and in my UPDATE statement it still had the table ‘test’ instead of ‘clients’. I was getting an error that said there was “an error in my SQL code”. Which is true. Since the table did exist, I wasn’t getting an error saying it wasn’t found. Ok, I fixed that
Second problem, the dates were actually entered in three different fields to make it easier for error checking – your year has to be within the current fiscal year, month between 1 and 12, no entering April 31. However, I needed those to BE dates for analyses we plan later. So, I just created the date variables. Problem solved.
Third problem, I realized I really did not want the password and other information required for connection in this program where anyone could see it. There is no personally identifiable information in here, but it’s just a bad habit to have your passwords and other data hanging out there. Hence the statement to require the connect.php script .
Fourth problem, the ID variable is not a number. It can be something like ABJ-001 , so it doesn’t match if it the case is not the same or if there are spaces. The strtoupper and trim functions fixed that.
Fifth problem, some of the dates were blank. I looked at them over and over to see if I had mismatched quotes . I even actually deleted and re-typed the statements. Nope, still, some of the dates were there and others were blank. Maybe they weren’t date format in the table definition? Nope, I checked and the missing dates and the dates that updated properly were all defined as the same format.
Well, maybe you spotted it already … As I said in the first problem, I had originally created and tested the script with a table named ‘test’ that had just a few columns. When I switched to my client table, I had forgotten to add all of the columns to the UPDATE statement. The problem wasn’t in creating the eligibility and ipe date fields. The problem was that I left those fields off of the update statement so they were never getting updated. Everything went through fine, I got a message saying my record was updated – because as far as PHP was concerned, it wasn’t an error. Maybe I only wanted to update some of the columns.
The moral of the story is this: Sometimes the problem is the code you DIDN’T write.