Tuesday, April 28, 2015

We fidget to focus

We fidget to focus, to keep us alert and engaged...

Formway Design, a propos of their MultiGeneration chair for Knoll, Inc.

By watching hundreds of hours of video and conducting in-depth interviews with workers of all ages, in all disciplines, Knoll and Formway Design recognized that the basic assumption about office seating — that there are only a few optimal ways to sit while at work — was flawed.
In fact, their investigation showed that sitting upright and facing forward was just one of the ways people use their office chairs. Shifting, stretching, rotating, leaning, and reclining not only relieve boredom but are essential to our ability to stay energized and collaborate with colleagues.
Understanding that no combination of adjustment levers could make a chair equally comfortable in each of those positions, Formway sought to achieve an elastic design—the idea that a product would rearrange itself in response to a user’s movements. After years of design and development, spent considering and reconsidering every component of the chair, Formway arrived at a truly innovative design.
With a revolutionary new material for the chair’s back and a form that anticipates and allows for a multitude of body positions, Generation achieves Knoll and Formway’s mission to help workers sit how they want. It is truly the next generation of seating.

Founded in 1956, New Zealand-based Formway Design has been designing furniture for more than five decades. In 1979 the company redefined itself, developing a new identity and philosophy that focused on team-based design and extensive research.
Formway’s designs are informed by insight gained through observation and consideration of human behavior. Their user-centered approach marries a rigorous design process, aesthetic sensitivity, and a passion for the environment.
Knoll and Formway first collaborated on the highly successful Life® Chair, introduced in 2002, which is celebrated for its sophisticated design, intuitive adjustments, responsive ergonomics and sustainable attributes.
Building on these features, the two companies came together once again to develop the Generation chair, introduced in 2009. The progressive design features new materials and an elastic design that supports the physical and cognitive activities of the modern office worker. Inspired by Generation, MultiGeneration® and ReGeneration® expand the Generation by Knoll® Family.

Extreme Success: Be obsessed, be obsessed, be obsessed.

NY Times 27 Ap, Justine Musk (former wife of Elon Musk of Space X and car fame) on extreme success:

"Extreme people combine brilliance and talent with an "insane" work ethic, so if your work itself doesn't drive you, you will burn out or fall by the wayside or your extreme competitors will crush you and make you cry.

Shift your focus away from what you want (a billion dollars, say) and get deeply, intensely curious about what the world wants and needs. It helps to have an ego, but you must be in the service to something bigger if you are to inspire the people you need to help you.

... Sometimes it's not so much the money that matters, but the win is everything--particularly when you have invested heart and soul in your mission.

Your job is your hobby. The nature of these things is so all-consuming. Unless you see that up-close it is hard to understand.

Obsession has a bad rap."

I, MK, have been thinking about this in terms of scholars and scientists. There are Nobel Prize winners who are not so obsessed, just fortunate. But the ones I knew best are so obsessed, although they something took on hobbies such as mountain climbing. Here the win is not so much financial as it is being firstest with the mostest.

In the social sciences and the humanities, it's usually harder to distinguish such extreme success. But you look for productivity in terms of books (and articles), and the intensity of that work and the presumption to theory building or defining. Or, sometimes it is the systematic devotion to a problem, whether it be to understand something, to explain an author or some texts, or a site, or... There are few defining prizes in these fields (except for Economics), such as literature, philosophy, sociology, political science, etc. If you study classic authors, or ancient texts, there is a chance that you become the authority, but likely there are several authorities with different perspectives.

In mathematics (see C. Villani's new book (now in English) or Michael Harris's Mathematics Without Apologies where he speaks of charisma), there are such great prizes, for those under 40 (Fields medal), for those who solve certain problems (Clay Millennial Problems), here think of Wiles and the Fermat Last Theorem or Perelman and the Poincare Conjecture (See Masha Gessen's book on Perelman). But there are achievements that are as significant which are not so prized--limited number of prizes, wrong age,... This is true in general.

Monday, April 20, 2015

Birth of a Theorem. Knife Fights. Intellectual Work and War Work.

Cedric Villani's Birth of a Theorem (Theoreme Vivante) is about what it means to do hard intellectual work. If you do not care about mathematics, but care about intellectual work, do take a look. There's lots of technical detail, but what is striking is the process of doing the work, the insights that cause him to rewrite it all, hangups that eventually are dealt with, working with a collaborator,...

John Nagl's Knife Fights is about war and counterinsurgency.  I find his chapter 8, an overview, to be thoughtful, balanced, fair, and interesting: about the role of the US, about what kinds of wars and military encounters are likely, and about the political world. Nonpartisan, not ideological, a nice read.  He was a Lt. Col in the Army, with lots of experience.

I find that descriptions of the world, whether they be of intellectual endeavors or of practical ones are best provided by actual practitioners who are both reflective and open to alternative positions. Theoretical and outsider perspectives are sometimes helpful, but often they need a healthy dose of actual frustrations and practices if they are not to be unhelpful.

The only way my own descriptions are justified is that I try them out on actual practitioners, and ask, Does this sound right? Often, the response is, So what?, in the sense that what I am saying is obvious to the practitioner. But, in general, it is not so obvious to others. It helps that I bring a wide range of models to the table, looking for analogies and perspectives: BUT, I could just be wrong, unless my work is tempered by experience (my own, or others). It's easy to teach mature practitioners, since if what I say makes sense to them, they get it. Nothing I say is "too theoretical," since if it makes sense they see it in actual terms. Teaching inexperienced students is much harder.

Sunday, April 12, 2015


    • AT FIRST I THOUGHT, I needed to introduce GOOGLE to ALL -not so techie- people in academia; Specially the "site:.edu" option in GOOGLE search. BUT THEN, I realized something FISHY..PLEASE keep reading!!...I FIRST wondered WHY the author does NOT name his/her university while a simple Google-search of the QUOTATION (from school policy) presented IN THIS Article [using Google's "site:.edu" option] RESULT in one-and-only-one Result: University of XY (UXY)!!!! [Please note I am not simply using Google-Search but I search only the .edu domains using the above mentioned google option] ..I am siting in the east coast, and no affiliation with UXY by the way...I just know my way around GOOGLE SEARCH and how "site:.edu" option works! Then a light Bulb went on in my mind...[BTW, I am a professor of Business/Strategy] There are two scenarios: 1: The author did not realize he/she has put an AWFULLY clear HINT to his/her school in the Article and it was a Gaff (or as we call it Sooti  [A Persian slang; 
      If you "give a sooti" you are behaving or doing/saying something unusual involuntary. A funny mistake.
      The president gave a khafan [COOL] sooti! He was talking to the secretary while he thought that the microphones were off!]
    • ) ........... 2: The writer knows the ABCs of the technology and he/she, REALLY WANTED to BE CAUGHT!! She could NOT publish this paper in PAPER.com with the ACTUAL name of his/her School and INSTEAD she-or-he, played this TRICK on PAPER.com...If the Second Scenario is TRUE which seems to be more likely [unless the author is XY+ years old AND still uses a TYPE MACHINE!! and a Flip-Phone is still too complicated for Her/him]... then it means the Writer of this article HAS SOME PERSONAL BEEF with someone... If this is the case it would be VERY Unprofessional, unethical, and Insulting to PAPER.com and the READERS!!! The PAPER.com need to consider removing this article or editing the content... Read the paper again: there was no need to put the 'unique' (!) Quotation of the university policy there.... There should be some sort of consequence .... I feel Bad for the 2 UXY employees who have been victimized here. Their reputation and future has been affected. PAPER.com may be held responsible at some point!!... As a Biz Prof. I am telling you: there will be some liabilities and casualties here, if ANY one take an issue or picks on a fight over this!! P.S.: Instead of the Actual name of university, I put UXY, as I do not want to be held liable in a probable case here.,..Good Luck!

    Saturday, April 11, 2015

    On leave: a personal note. The Standard Model.

    I am on leave this semester, and for the first time I have no work due, no work planned, no ...  It has been remarkable for me, since I am self-starting. It took about two months to slow down, and of late I have been reading in quantum field theory, the Standard Model in particle physics, and partial differential equations. I have no good reason why. I did write up my work on uncertainty, early on, during that slow down period. But nothing else other than notes to myself.

    We'll see where it goes.

    In my reading I have been struck by the precision of modern work in high energy physics and particle physics. The Standard Model proves to be robust, the experimenters ingenious, the theorists capable of calculating just about everything. And agreement of calculation and experiment often is about three significant figures, an extraordinary achievement. The only more impressive numbers are Kinoshita's calculations in QED, where ten significant figures and thousands of Feynman diagrams are needed, and one needs as well knowledge of QCD effects (effects of heavier particles than electrons and photons, usually virtual).

    I recall when in the 70s the Standard Model became orthodoxy due to experimental discoveries. What was striking then, and is still striking, is how much modern theory is an ingenious but quite recognizable adaptation of Maxwell's 1870 equations for electricity and magnetism--quantized, quantum field-ized, and given more complicated symmetries.

    "Theorems are proved by those who believe them."

    I am told, There's a saying among mathematicians that 
    "theorems are proved by those who believe them."

    Namely, you have to pursue a program of work believing it will be productive. Those who do not think that path will be productive are unlikely to go down that path, and so they will not even get close to proving such theorems. In other words, our work demands a commitment from ourselves, since in general the payoff is unsure and typically it is well in the distance. I can imagine two archetype examples: Andrew Wiles working on the Taniyama-Shimura conjecture for perhaps six or seven years, and Yitang Zhang's work on the distance between consecutive primes. Wiles was a distinguished Princeton professor, where the risks for him would be that the work would not be enough to prove the Fermat Theorem. But along the way, he was making major advances in his field that would have been quite valuable--but not world shaking.  Zhang had a lectureship at U of New Hampshire, was in his mid-50s and no particular distinction. But he took what was known in the literature and gave it the power it needed. If it did not work out, I suppose he could have published something, but I am not sure it would have satisfied his desire to do spectacular work or earn him a better position.

    As for Zhang, see this article by Andrew Granville, A New Mathematical Celebrity .

    If the above link does not work, the link is http://www.ams.org/journals/bull/2015-52-02/S0273-0979-2015-01486-2/S0273-0979-2015-01486-2.pdf

    Granville's interesting claim is that there is something distinctive about the mathematics community, since here is an article by an unknown claiming to have proved a major theorem and opening up a new method (the standard recipe for error and "crackpot")--yet it took only three weeks for the major mathematical journal to recognize it and accept it.

    As for Wiles, when he first presented his result, after being silent about the work for all those years, someone noted an error in the proof. It was clear the work was important and a major advance, but the big result had a hole in it. Over the next year, Wiles and his student Taylor repaired the hole. This often happens with major complex and lengthy work, and is not stigmatizing if you can repair the hole--you talk about the work to others so they will help you improve the work and find errors in it--that's their job!

    It is worth noting

    There has been a 2 1/2 month hiatus in this blog. I hope to get back to it soon.