15 October 2009

Calvin Trillin is in fine whack lately

The Nation | Calvin Trillin | What Whoopi Goldberg ('Not a Rape-Rape'), Harvey Weinstein ('So-Called Crime') et al. Are Saying in Their Outrage Over the Arrest of Roman Polanski

A youthful error? Yes, perhaps.
But he's been punished for this lapse—
For decades exiled from LA
He knows, as he wakes up each day,
He'll miss the movers and the shakers.
He'll never get to see the Lakers.
For just one old and small mischance,
He has to live in Paris, France.
He's suffered slurs and other stuff.
Has he not suffered quite enough?
How can these people get so riled?
He only raped a single child.

Why make him into some Darth Vader
For sodomizing one eighth grader?
This man is brilliant, that's for sure—
Authentically, a film auteur.
He gets awards that are his due.
He knows important people, too—
Important people just like us.
And we know how to make a fuss.
Celebrities would just be fools
To play by little people's rules.
So Roman's banner we unfurl.
He only raped one little girl.
Bravo, Mr Trillin. Bravo. (Via Ken @ Popehat)

Arnold Kling
points to this interview Trillin conducted with a (semi-fictional?) "Wall Street old-timer," about generational issues amongst financial management and the Geeks vs Suits problem. Worth a read.

Kling also points to this commentary on Trillin from James Kwak, which includes the following:

I read somewhere that of the CEOs of the largest banks, only Vikram Pandit at Citi was a true “quant,” and he only came in when Citi bought his hedge fund in 2007, after the bulk of the damage was done. (I’m not endorsing Pandit’s job as CEO, only saying that the mess was there before he arrived.) So there probably was this situation where the executive ranks were filled with old-style relationship-builders and dealmakers, and the increasingly quantitative traders were doing things they didn’t understand. A similar story has been told about Salomon under John Gutfreund in the 1980s (and LTCM under John Meriweather in the 1990s).

Technology firms also face a similar problem. In technology, as in most businesses, the way to make it to the top is through sales, so you end up with a situation where the CEO is a sales guy who has no understanding of technology and, for example, thinks that you can cut the development time of a project in half by adding twice as many people. I have seen this have catastrophic results. Even when you don’t have the generational issue that Trillin talks about, the problem is that the sociology of corporations leads to a certain kind of CEO, and as corporations become increasingly dependent on complex technology or complex business processes (for example, the kind of data-driven marketing that consumer packaged companies do), you end up with CEOs who don’t understand the key aspects of the companies they are managing.
I think it's no coincidence that Microsoft, Apple, Amazon and Google are four of the most successful technology companies of the last quarter century* and all four have had their geek founders keep a hand on the reins (to varying degrees, of course). I'd say the same thing about Pixar: they would have spent the last 15 years turning out drek if Catmull and Lasseter hadn't been calling the shots.

(* Perhaps the four most successful, if not by the numbers then in the popular consciousness at least.)

By the way, if you're a suit and you're wondering why you can't halve development time by throwing twice as many people at the project, I will refer you to one of the canonical texts on software engineering, Fred Brooks' The Mythical Man Month, though with the caveat that Brooks' thesis deals specifically with late projects, though that constraint has been generalized away by others with varying degrees of rigor. What make this mistake so frustrating to Kwak, myself, and a great many others, is that we've known you don't get a linear speed-up (or even a positive correlation) from adding more people since 1975, and managers continue making this mistake.

PS Mythical Man Month gets discussed a lot, but I never hear people talk about Brooks' other big essay No Silver Bullet. Just thought I'd give it a mention too. I'd like to see a post Ruby-on-Rails (&c) version of that piece.

To bring things back around to rape apologists and how terrible they are, I want to heap some scorn on the 30 GOP Senators who voted against withholding funds from Defense contractors who restrict their employees from taking sexual assault cases to court if they're on the job overseas. To be honest, I haven't paid much attention to the Jamie Leigh Jones case, but I don't see how there's another side to this coin. Shame on them.

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