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What is a game?

There are lots of definitions abroad in the land. People like to argue about the difference between a sport and a game, for instance. You could stir up some trouble differentiating between a toy and a game, too, I guess. Here’s as good an explanation of a game as I’ve seen:

A game is a voluntary attempt to overcome unnecessary obstacles.

That’s a pretty good high-level view of it. The unnecessary obstacle in your way might be anything from a 320-pound offensive tackle to Boardwalk and Park Place with hotels on them. Games is games.

What about your pocket Pandora’s Box? You know, your smartphone, the most totally misnamed device ever. It’s not smart, and everyone uses it to avoid talking to anyone, so we really should call it something else. Pocket Pandora is as good a name as any. It’s basically only good for the intellectual version of slash and burn agriculture if you ask me. You’re reading this, so you asked me.

Most people try to convince themselves that their Pocket Pandora is a useful tool. It’s really not. For most people, it’s a toy to pass the time, and for the rest, a game device. In almost every case, an app on your Pocket Pandora represents a voluntary attempt to overcome unnecessary obstacles. They don’t think it be like it is, but it do.

For example, some folks want to be able to turn the lights in their house on and off using their phone. They figure this is an improvement on a light switch, because it sounds less complicated than extracting their flabby ass from the couch cushions and shuffling across the room to do it, but in reality it adds all sorts of complexity to what should be a simple operation. You have to find your phone and call up an app and fiddle with it so your phone can talk to a cell tower and then to a mainframe somewhere to send signals back to who knows what to operate an electronic device to switch off the lights.

It’s a solution in search of a problem, of course. But the reason it caught on with so many people is that it has essentially been made into a game. Turning the lights on and off is necessary, but it’s hardly interesting. By making it into a game with your phone, they’ve convinced you that it’s a worthwhile waste of your time and money. What’s the harm in that, you might ask? Isn’t turning everything into a game an improvement?

When you want a toddler to do something they don’t want to do, you make it into a game. Open the tunnel, here comes the choo choo (filled with mush you just refused to eat). Please note who’s in charge in this scenario, and who’s getting duped. Worse still, if you’re duped into playing a game, you’re just the little tin car or boot being pushed onto Boardwalk or Park Place by someone else. You have no agency. You’re not actually playing. You’re being played.

Your Pocket Pandora is 99% designed to play you for a dupe, by fooling you into feeling like you have agency. Let’s test my supposition. I’ll go to the seventh circle of iPhone hell and ask it for the most popular app for an iPhone. Here it is:

I don’t know how many people are using this thing, because I’ve never heard of it, but please note the fine print: it has 860,000 people willing to give it a review on the Jobsstore.

On the front page for the app, I’ll grab excerpts from the first three reviews they have:

Where have you been ask my life???

I love this app so much. I cannot believe that all these sellers are on here and sellers such great products at great prices too. I know some cannot use the app but for those who can it is even easier in the app and you can do so much on here. It’s not some store app that is boring it is exciting and they seem to update it all the time…

… I also especially love the games I as of late have according to my husband become addicted to winning lol. I just have to spend a very small amount of time winning items and well I’ve gotten so many people in My family And friends circle on this app. They love it just as much.

Here’s the next one:

… I AM glad I gave it a try and hope I don’t blow all my expendable income on it because, while there are a few things I need, most of it is just stuff I want. They do honor the initial 90% off gift and if you have time to play their popularity/annoy your friends game, you can get some great deals. The coupons don’t last long enough at all. The other day I had a $16 off $40 coupon but it expired in 24 hours when I was still building my next cart, so I find myself waiting to make the purchase until I receive a good coupon. I have tried the referral thing to win free items and credits but I’m lame and antisocial so I don’t know enough people and I also don’t have the time to peruse reddit for hours looking for strangers to “click for click” with. It makes me a little frustrated (and obviously just jealous) when I see people who have received 100+ free gifts they’re going to resell just because they are kids with no jobs and spend their days being “influencers” on tik tok-In that regard it feels like a tween’s app, but again, I’m just lame so you may have better luck with the whole “Team Up Price Down” thing.

Here’s the next one:

…Again, I am overall satisfied with my shopping experience. Do not be scammed by the games- farmland and fish land seem like fun ways to win or earn free products or coupons but the closer you get to the goal, the harder they get to reach. Very time consuming and all the “free gift” boxes they tell are exclusive to you, are not. The prices never change. It’s just consumer manipulation and again, just a waste of time. Stuff is still super cheap and you get what’s advertised. Still worth using

Turn on your phone. Get likes. Get hits. Get coupons. Get discounts. Get followers. Get news updates. Open up, here comes the choo choo!

The Cemetery Is Full of Indispensable Men

Kids these days. They like to make up new names for old ideas and claim them for their own. It’s human nature to do so I guess. Kids these days also don’t think the world existed before the internet, so anything older doesn’t need renaming. If it never happened, you can’t re-name it, right?

So the recent generations are fascinated by software, and name situations that turn up in its adumbration and propagation as if they’re brand new problems. But they really aren’t. Just because captains of industry in the past used ledger books instead of Microsoft Excel, doesn’t mean they didn’t have sophisticated ideas about how the business world worked. Just the opposite, for the most part.

So we’re going to talk about the Bus Factor, and pretend it’s not just a javascript wrangler’s gloss on organizational memory, if you don’t mind. I’ve written several times about organizational memory here. I’d post links to it, but my organizational memory, and the regular kind, ain’t so good. Here’s the dictionary definition of the term:

Organizational memory (OM), sometimes called institutional memory or corporate memory, is the accumulated body of data, information, and knowledge created in the course of an organization’s existence. The concept of organizational memory includes the ideas of components knowledge acquisition, knowledge processing or maintenance, and knowledge usage like search and retrieval.

But the kids have coined their own term for it, and I like it better: the Bus Factor. It has a dictionary definition, too:

The “bus factor” is the minimum number of team members that have to suddenly disappear from a project before the project stalls due to lack of knowledgeable or competent personnel.

Of course that’s the least jocular version of what it means. The original meaning is, “What happens if so-and-so gets hit by a bus?”

This is an important consideration in the software world. Software development is filled with people who hate meetings. They hate telling anyone what they’re doing. They don’t like abstract standards of right and wrong. You know, like speling. They love talking about technical debt (I’ll do that later, unless I get hit by a bus), but not doing anything about it.

So the Wikiup suggest three ways to decrease the dangers of the Bus Factor:

Reduce complexity
Document all processes and keep that documentation up-to-date
Encourage cross-training

Since software development is a Aztec temple devoted to cutting out the end user’s hearts and sacrificing them to the gods of complexity, that first one is a non-starter. When was the last time any software was simplified?

Number two’s a doozy, too. For example, have you ever asked Google how to fix a Google problem? They have metric tonnes of “help” in the form of bulletin boards and other forms of “knowledge bases,” which are heavy on text and short on knowledge. All their suggestions refer to things that don’t exist anymore, or are called something different, or beside the point.

Number three’s a lark, too. Ask a code monkey to perform any other operation in the business and be prepared to see them throw themselves on the low-pile carpet and thrash around in a circle like Curley when he sees a tassel.

The kids are on to something here, though. IBM had a very long institutional memory, just to point out one malefactor among many. It didn’t help them survive the thorough Rometting they got. People who are working in new fields can’t always use old procedures to accomplish what they’re trying to accomplish.

But I’d like to commandeer the Bus Factor from the Zoomers and Millennials, and drive it to a destination that they don’t like to visit. They’re worrying about what happens if the guy who coded their statcounter has a suddenly and they don’t know how it works. Back in my day, we used to call that job security. But what they really should be worried about is how many seats are on that bus, and not who’s in front of it, but who’s sitting inside it when it goes off a cliff.

My generation is going to get on that bus en masse. We’re the generation that’s been climbing the phone poles at night on Christmas to get the lights back on. We built all the houses, and paved all the roads. We welded and painted and wired and plumbed and leveled and raised and moved and planted and sawed and every other damn thing that makes the difference between the twenty-first century and the tenth. We built all the missiles that the cocaine cowboy in Kiev is blasting all over the place.  Hell, we even built the internet you’re worrying about the Bus Factor on. In short, we did all the stuff you can’t be bothered to do anymore. Not with that sweet, sweet, javascript empire you’re going to make instead.

Napoleon once remarked that the cemetery was full of indispensable men. Good luck to you, when yours is.

OK, Everybody; Let’s Play: Find The Bank!

One of these descriptions is how a bank is run. The other one is how a pawn shop is run. See if you can identify which is which.

Situation 1: People need to borrow money. They put up collateral against the sum they need, after a gimlet-eyed appraisal by the lender. The borrower pays a non-adjustable rate of interest on the money. There is usually a balloon payment due at the end of the term to repatriate the collateral. If the borrower defaults, the lender keeps the collateral and sells it to others more able to afford it.

The deals are essentially made between the two parties with a handshake. The lender uses his expertise, hard-won in the marketplace, and subject to the immediate loss of capital should he mis-appraise more than a handful of items in a hundred. If the lender dips into the funds he keeps on hand that allow him to supply the liquidity his customers demand, to squander on his own amusement or speculations, or if he tries to capture business that he is not prepared to handle for a short-term bump in his notoriety, or to monkey around with the short-term look of his balance sheet, he will immediately go out of business. Since his business is predicated on good relations with his customers and his neighbors in his local community, the lender strives to keep on genial terms with the public.

The lender relies on other experts from time to time, but generally relies on his own good sense. The borrower is in an equal, or superior, position to the lender in determining the value of the property he uses for collateral, as he is in possession of it already and knows its provenance. In any case, the terms of the loan are entirely straightforward and immutable and agreed upon by both parties with no proxies. The lender does not employ any strong-arm tactics to make the loan, and certainly does not need any when the borrower is in default. He simply takes over possession of the asset in a perfectly straightforward and legal process and sells the asset  if he can.

Situation 2: People need to borrow money, so they put up capriciously appraised collateral, sometimes that they don’t even fully own, and/or submit to a byzantine, arbitrary, personal appraisal of their financial affairs made by a slew of shady and disreputable third parties. Both the lender and the borrower know that the third party appraisals are akin to a farce, but neither really cares about the long-term viability of their transactions. The borrower generally has no intention of following through on the terms of the loan all the way to its end, and will try to foist his obligations or the original collateral off on another party in the interim. The lender likewise has no intention or expectation of the loan being paid off on the terms on which it was made, and may secretly desire the borrower to default on the deliberately convoluted and intricate terms so that the borrower’s obligations can be increased. Sometimes the lenders repatriate collateral from defaulted loans that they don’t even really want, by force, and then just destroy it to appease some kind of lust for destruction or as a warning to others, or more generally as part of a Minotaur-worthy tax evasion scheme.

The lender generally slips the loan into a weird, giant package of other loans, which is then sold to other, unwitting lenders under the guise of a business opportunity. These lenders who would be left with little or no recourse if (and more generally, when) the borrower defaults on his loan.

Other types of loans are made without collateral by these same lenders. They employ a capricious and sometimes draconian sliding scale of interest rates, penalties and fees, deliberately obscured from the borrower to entice them to borrow money at one rate while allowing the lender to collect the loans at a much higher, often usurious rate. If the borrower doesn’t pay, the lender begins a non-stop campaign of threats and harassment against the borrower, often hiring vicious and unscrupulous third parties to collect the debts for them, regularly using a campaign of terror that involves the destruction of the borrower’s reputation in his home, neighborhood, place of business and among a multitude of government agencies, where many unscrupulous bureaucrats are willing participants in the swindle, and often receive payments from both parties in the disputes.

The lenders are not well educated or experienced in the forces of the marketplace, and simply join breeder gangs of like-minded persons, many with bizarre initiation rituals among members of a self-selecting and homogenous elite. They are bullheaded, extravagant, and greedy, often dipping into their funds to speculate wildly in all sorts of shady enterprises, mostly using inside information, and regularly secretly betting against their public positions in the market and against their own customers. They are not afraid of a loss of capital because they are adept at skimming money from insurance scams, looting retirement funds, tax evasion, and other government swindles, counterfeiting, and when all else fails, they terrorize entire communities with the threat of taking everyone with them when they go down.

OK, take a crack at it in the comments. Which is the bank, and which is the pawn shop? But remember, no wagering! I’m not running a casino here, which is like the stock market, but with fewer gangsters.

[Note: This post was edited and updated, but legacy comments were preserved]

The 3-6-3 Rule Rules. Well, It Used To

[Editor’s Note: A hardy perennial. Originally offered in 2009. Still seems fairly trenchant, I’d say, if I knew what trenchant meant] 

Why did the nascent United States produce so many great thinkers? Where are they now?

Great thinkers come to the fore when they are required. The founding of any great enterprise requires inspiration coupled to intellect. If the intellect is wanting, the inspiration is usually enough, but makes it harder to carry out the fruits of your inspiration except by dogged determination. Intellect alone is not useless — it’s worse than useless. On a good day it’s counterproductive; the other 364 days it’s destructive. You cannot come up with a worthwhile concept based solely on intellect. It qualifies you only to be a clerk or a sophist. Clerking is hard work, so everybody goes full sophist right away.

Now the world is run by sophists. They think that because they read a few books about people who were great that they are great in their turn. There are two problems with this surmise. One, the people they think were great probably weren’t. Secondly, most people are incapable of much more than misremembering and misunderstanding the twaddle they read anyway, because education isn’t very rigorous anymore. If you think the world’s business is decided by simply choosing wisely between John Galt and Noam Chomsky, I don’t know what to say to you. Mozart is never going to show up on American Idol.

I’ll answer the question I posed in the opening myself. The reason Hamilton and Madison et. al. sat at the same table once is that it was required just then. There was an enormous market for ideas in the rough, right away. A few years later, the time for thinking like that was over. Old Muttonhead rightly sat at the head of the table and told Jefferson and Hamilton to put a sock in it, and see if they could manage to keep the spittoons emptied in their assigned offices before they got any more bright ideas. We could use some of the Old Muttonhead approach right now.

I read the news in the most desultory fashion because it’s so useless to read twaddle filtered through incoherence and basted with a faction reduction. I hear, literally, gibberish. There is no such thing as a “toxic asset,” for instance. An asset is pass/fail. It either is, or it’s not. A banker prone to adjectives isn’t much of a banker. There’s that sophistry again. To hear a person with their hand on the levers of vital things utter such bosh indicates to me that the people that formerly put stupid back-seat-driver bright ideas in the suggestion box at their crummy jobs thrice daily are in charge of important things now.

Smart managers know the suggestion box is 99.9% for humoring cranks. The Internet is the world’s suggestion box now, with much the same role.

What possible good could it do to read a paper that refers to a capital injection into the money supply and a transfer payment to non-productive sectors referred to interchangeably as “a bailout.” It used to be only the journalist that was that ignorant. When the people the journalists are interviewing start talking like that, why listen at all?

My father was a banker. He told me the old saw about the only rule in the bank is the “3-6-3 Rule.” Borrow at 3%, lend at 6%, and play golf at three.

It was a joke and pop never played golf and he never left at three and people were always coming in to the bank to rob it and shoot the guard. You see, you don’t understand the joke. You think it means that bankers were effete and lazy and thick-headed. It really meant that the wisest of them knew that after you borrowed (judiciously) at 3% and lent (wisely) at 6% there was nothing left to do. If you kept coming up with bright ideas after that, it was all bad, brother.

Everybody’s been working overtime in banking and government coming up with new and bright ideas to torture the language and the arithmetic so they could pat themselves on the back about how much smarter they are than everybody else. Can I have my bonus billion now? I’m going to invest it with Bernie Madoff because I’m so smahhht.

You’re not captains of industry. You’re not visionaries. You’re not statesmen. You’re supposed to be clerks. I’m sorry, but clerks don’t get paid all that much — and never get a piece of the action. They don’t get statues in the park in their honor. I can read well enough to know that real clerks, honorable, hardworking clerks, are going to be taxed into the hereafter, never mind the foreseeable future, to make sure the fake clerks with delusions of grandeur don’t have to go back to the real world they fled.

It’s an honorable profession, being a clerk. I spend part of my day being one. You intellectual swells should try dabbling in it. To paraphrase Randle Patrick McMurphy: Sell big ideas someplace else; we’re all stocked up here.

I Looked Down, And There It Was (Again)

[Editor’s note: This was originally offered in 2007. I’m pleased that these things make a certain amount of sense even though they are not new. Authors who are famously wrong need new material all the time, I guess.]
{Author’s note: Being lazy, I tell the truth. Saves effort. Also, there is no editor.}

It’s a hoary old joke my friend tells: There’s a man of few words, in a restaurant slightly more elegant than he’s used to. The waiter brings the check, and asks, “How did you find your meal?” He answers: “I looked down, and there it was.”

Everything appears like that now, through a process so complex that no one can fully understand even a small portion of it. Persons that say they understand the machinations necessary to place the most mundane thing in front of a great many people well enough to regulate the whole affair, with an eye towards improving everything, are spouting nonsense. If a man walked up to you and confessed he didn’t know your name, but claimed he could list all the atoms in your body, would you hand him your wallet? How about your skin? All day long, I hear the groundskeepers telling me they should be the quarterback. And I can’t help noticing the grass has gone to seed, and the hash marks are crooked.

You look down, and there it is, all day long. There is a large chance that if you’re reading this, you have never participated in the actual making of anything in any meaningful way. And as the world gets more complex, we all get further and further removed from the ultimate source of all of our prosperity. How far removed? To the point where it gets obscure enough that it can be blithely strangled in its crib, on the supposition that it can be improved by infantile wishing, followed by fiat.

See the man on the sleigh, bringing the sap back to the shed to boil? He knows the tree like a brother. He knows the woods like a mother. He knows fire like a caveman. He knows commerce like a loanshark. He knows cold like a wintertime gravedigger. He knows sap like you know the alphabet. But he doesn’t have the slightest idea what you’re about, because you labor in a vineyard far removed from his. A place where the meaning of your efforts is likely always obscure, as all intellectual pursuits must be.

Remember always what you don’t know about the man on the sleigh, lest one day, you look down, and there it ain’t.

Why I Never Hire Brilliant Men

I have only infrequently been an employee. When I was an employee, I would always be hired as the lowest of peons, then immediately be promoted to just short of the top of the greasy pole. In the past, I’ve been the employer of a good number of people, and as a manager acting for others I have supervised many hundreds. I now work alone.

When I had a handful of men working directly for me, I was in a business that absolutely demanded that the world be altered in a concrete, demonstrable, measurable, and productive way, every day, all the time, and without exception. I employed a rather bright fellow I recall now with fondness. I didn’t employ him because he was bright, because that was mostly superfluous to the topic at hand. He was pleasant, and cooperative. He was not a lifer in the manual trades. 
One day, I gave a raft of instructions to him and all my other employees, and then left on an important business errand. When I returned, everything was either not done, or not done correctly, or an admixture of those two. I was rather heated in my reaction. In a quiet moment later, he said something to me that I found interesting, and useful. He told me that no one that worked for me was as smart as I was, and they couldn’t understand things that I took for granted, and that there was no way the work would ever come out like I wanted it to unless I did it myself, and I was wasting my time trying to make it happen.
Since I did not make this assessment myself,  I guess I can tell you about it without feeling like it’s simply rotomontade on my part. I had made a very bad mistake, and had hired a brilliant person to run my affairs, which is a very big mistake indeed. To hire a brilliant person to run your affairs marks a man as none too bright, if you ask me. It makes no nevermind that the brilliant person was me. 
I do not employ a brilliant person in this capacity any longer. If he gets up to anything brilliant-sounding, I tell him to put a sock in it, and sand another tabletop, because that’s what needs doing.

But that’s old advice, of course. Here it is, from 1924:

 Why I Never Hire Brilliant Men
by: Unknown

SITTING in my office last week, facing the man whom I had just fired,
I thought of the contrast between that interview and our first one,
nearly two years ago! Then he did almost all the talking, while I
listened with eager interest. Last week it was I who talked, while he
sulked like a petulant child.

“Your contract has sixteen months to run,” I said. “My proposition is
that we cancel it at once, and that I hand you this check for ten
thousand dollars.”
With a show of bravado he waved the check aside. He would hold me to
the letter of the contract if it were the last thing he ever did.
I told him he had that privilege, but I was sure he would see the futility of exercising it.
“Let me review the situation for a moment,” I continued: “You came to
us as general sales manager on January 1st, 1922, at a salary of
twenty-five thousand dollars. It was by far the largest salary we had
ever paid in any executive position; but your record seemed to justify
“The letters you brought spoke in the highest terms of your sales
genius. The only question which they did not answer to my satisfaction
was why companies which had valued you so highly should ever have
allowed you to get away! When I voiced this, you stated that they merely
had been outbid by their competitors — and I accepted your statement.
It wasn’t until you had been here a year that I learned the truth. You
are a quick starter, but a poor finisher — no finisher at all, in


Welcome To The New Admixture Economy

Do you work in the new Admixture Economy?

If you don’t, but feel you’re missing out on something, don’t worry; you’ll be laid off or fired or downsized or rightsized or smartsized or bought out or furloughed or spun off or phased out or involuntarily attritted fairly soon. You’ll be Bangalored, good and hard, and end up out here with the rest of us trying to cut and paste a living out of the remains of the day. The day after the severance runs out, I mean. 

I don’t think anyone’s inventing anything much lately. Not in any meaningful way. I see everyone fumbling around with the most misnamed thing in the history of the universe, the smartphone, and they’re busy as beavers with a loose tooth, apping this and texting that, and they’re looking at me with my flip phone thinking I’m L7, man. They think I’m L7, man, just for using the term L7, I imagine, or the term, “man” too, so their opinion of me is going way downhill, and fast. But I had a Palm Pilot fifteen years ago. I’ve seen it all before, kids. You’re not doing anything I wasn’t, except paying by the minute instead of all at once at the beginning.

In my heart I knew my Palm Pilot couldn’t do anything a geezer’s battered daytimer and a pencil couldn’t do — except run out of batteries. A variation on a theme isn’t an invention. But variation is all that matters now. Google’s just the Yellow Pages, with those nasty ads from the back page of the indie newspaper thrown in. Craigslist is just the classifieds.  Facebook is just a dry-erase clipboard on some college girl’s dorm room door, writ large, and with about as many emoticons. Come on, if you don’t remember hearts over the “i”s and little kitties in the margins on the ” I’ve gone to the mixer” message on her door, you haven’t lived.

Look at that video. Some nameless guys with pocket protectors and slide rules made everything in that video possible. And not the geeks pictured on TV in The IT Crowd, either. No, it was IBM types in the seventies, and NASA dorks from the sixties. People that look like Milton on Office Space, not cool kids like Peter Gibbons. Of course they had to understand real world engineering with profit and loss thrown in along with the slide rule stuff. They had frumpy wives and 2.3 kids and a dog to kick at home, too. They didn’t have time to dress their dog like Boba Fett. They had to shovel the walk before they went out on Rt. 128 and made it to the office park early anyway. They made all this stuff so that avaricious punks in hoodies could pick it up off the desk and Rubik it into a fortune.

Some people come along, and they see these disparate things, and think they can cobble them into a working whole. So your phone has maps in it, because there’s this satellite made by who knows who, circling the earth, doing not much, and they can glom onto it and mash things up and make some money for doing nothing but seeing possibilities in joining things Then they crank up the cognitive dissonance and use their phone to get online and slag Henry Ford in some off-topic Guardian comment section because he didn’t invent the assembly line, you know. And Bill Gates? Don’t get me started.

Everyone hates the circus all of a sudden, so people start skateboarding and biking and just plain running and tumbling, and a little digital camera makes YouTube into the circus. It’s still the circus, even if the only animals you tease are hominids with tatts. And a tiny digital camera, slung on a remote control drone, and mashed up with music and posted on the Internet to cadge advertising without paying in order to sell the whole mess, is an Admixture Deluxe, my friends.

I make furniture. People think my occupation is making furniture, but it isn’t. I’m not sure what I’m doing, exactly, but making furniture isn’t a quarter of it. The most interesting part of what I’m doing might be packaging, or selling what I have without ever advertising, or something else I’m doing that doesn’t even register with me right now. I mashed all sorts of possibilities together, and I’m trying to make a go of it in the new Admixture Economy. A wise man said he could see so far because he stood on the shoulders of giants. I’m looking into the navel of prosperity right now, because I stand on the shoulders of midgets, but maybe I’ll be able to add the admixture of  human growth hormone into my midget’s affairs and fix that someday soon. You never know.  But I do know that there’s very few places to hide from the Admixture Economy anymore anyway. I’m glad I’m in on the bottom floor, even if it is flooded and moldy a bit, and the light over the stairs went out five minutes after I went down there.

I hope I do half as well as whoever thought to put that turquoise bathing suit on that very tanned woman at the beginning of the video, because that is some admixture, I’ll tell you what.

Beware Justin Gotta

[Editor’s Note: first offered eight years ago. It got edited heavily, but there’s still some ancient references in there]
[Author’s Note: I’ve been doing this for eight years? Either I deserve a medal, or the readers do. There is no editor]

Who’s Justin Gotta, you ask? Why, hes your consultant for house design and decorating, work, home life, play, finances, politics, childrearing…

Maybe I should explain.

I’ve discovered a rule of thumb that has carried me through my life without disappointment for many years. I came to two realizations by observing my housing customers’ as well as my employees’ behavior. Only later did it occur to me that it applied to almost any stripe of life. Here it is:

Part 1: When the customer uses the word just in a sentence, you’re about to hear something dumb.

Example: Why don’t you just build the second floor first, we have the lumber for that, and slip the first floor under it later? Why can’t we just do that?

Or: Why can’t we just make the house two thousand square feet bigger for no money?

Part 2: When an employee uses the words I gotta in a sentence, it’s going to be followed by something stupid, or a lie — generally both.

Example: I can’t work today because I gotta …

There’s no need to bother listening to that sentence, because it really doesn’t matter what follows, you don’t want to hear it.

On the one hand, I’ve had employees come to me and ask permission to leave work fifteen minutes early on Friday afternoon so they could go to chemotherapy. They scheduled their treatments on Fridays as late in the afternoon as possible, so they could recover in time for work on Monday.

People like that never use the words “I gotta.”

The “I gotta” is a sort of a vestigal verbal tail, left over from the teen years, an attempt to weasel out of your obligations or get treatment you don’t deserve by appealing to a goldbricking, layabout deus ex machina, an overriding imaginary obligation that makes further discussion or disputation impossible.

“But I told you I gotta have Wednesday off! Didn’t you hear me? I gotta! It’s not like I have a choice in the matter; I gotta pick up my brother and go to the casino and get loaded and then I gotta have another day off in a couple weeks to go to court for missing my child support payments that I blew at the racetrack on the way home from the casino and the barroom. I just gotta.”

Keeping a watchful eye out for those two terms has served me in good stead lo these many years. And I always hope to give as good as I get, so I’m careful to beware of them lest they appear in my own sentences.

Customers, beware the just and gottas on your own end, as well. Like an accusing index finger, the just and gottas generally have a malefactor on both ends of them.

If you hear: “We were going to work at your house this week but we gotta…”

Oh no. We gotta. The “we gotta” is an especially virulent form of the virus, and has been known to wipe out entire work weeks.

“Can’t you just pay us in advance? Because we gotta… “

This is the equivalent of the plague sweeping a medieval town. If you spot the dreaded we gotta, in the same sentence, or egads, in the same prepositional phrase as can’t you just?, abandon all hope. There is nothing left for you but prayer.

I began to notice that the rule applied to everything in life, not just work. It’s as close to the Golden Rule as I’ve ever gotten, and I’m no philosopher. Think about it.

It’s charming to remember a time when that jugeared martian from Texas, Ross Perot, was considered a legitimate presidential candidate, and his whole party platform consisted of saying why can’t we just about everything. Why can’t we just tell those Palestinians and Jews to knock it off? Why can’t we just raise the gas tax fifty cents? Why can’t we just run the federal government out of a Motel 6 in Austin?

And so forth. It’s a testament to the attraction of “just” and “gotta” that he got as far as he did, and likewise a testament to the good sense of the electorate who finally realized he’s just a cross between your boss asking you don’t you just work on Christmas eve for free, and your plumber telling you he can’t come for two days, to make your finless brown trout disappear, because he’s gotta wax his boat.

And so, gentle reader, remember: when someone says: Why don’t you Just Do It, tell them it’s unlikely you’ll just become a two hundred and seventy pound mass of muscle who runs as fast as a sprinter by buying shoes that look like moonboots. When you hear: Why don’t we just get five gay men to decorate our shabby apartment on television, or: I gotta talk to the president again and dictate American foreign policy from a ditch by the side of the road, why can’t we just… caution is called for.

Beware Justin Gotta.

We Could Always Motivate Our Employees By Treating Them With Respect And Paying Them Well. Nah

Every once in a great while I get disconsolate about these here Intertunnels. A contest to see who can be the stupidest gets old fast. Nothing much seems genuine. I have every expectation that this video is genuine, don’t get me wrong; but the Intertunnel’s interest in it will not be because it’s good. It’s because it’s very, very, bad.

When you worship the gods of bad and stupid, this sort of thing is what emerges from the tail end of pop culture’s alimentary canal.  Either you’re savvy, and understand that your employees won’t respond to anything serious if it’s presented in a serious way, or you’re a dullard, and think you’re hip because you’re immune to just how lame-o you appear. Either way, you’re not Dale Carnegie.

Or maybe you are. Fish don’t get to swim in the water they desire. They must swim in the water they’re in, or perish. I imagine that it’s deuced difficult to make a living these days selling trinkets to the natives anywhere in the US. There is, literally, not one item in that store that I’d keep if it was given to me. Purchasing anything is out of the question. The owner of the store has to figure out how to get his employees on board with his scheme to sell this dreck or they’ll all starve. His scheme is being pleasant to the customers. That’s it. Nothing fancy. The video will be hooted at much farther and wider than when it was conceptualized, that’s for sure, but the point was made, moronically, perhaps, but no one that watches it would be struck by the idea that there were unpleasant people anywhere near it. Many nice people don’t summer in Cannes, and dress in couture. I said nice people, not Nice people.

If you had produced the best customer service video ever made, flashy and full of sober and sage advice to the retail worker, you’d get maybe five thousand hits on YouTube. I guarantee this one will get five million. Therein lies a lesson. My only problem is I have no idea what that lesson might be.


When I was young my father would take me to an MDC skating rink. The MDC was the “Metropolitan Disctrict Commission.” It was a layer of government in Massachusetts that allowed the corrupt mayor of Boston to be corrupt outside the city proper. The MDC had its own police force, and ran all sorts of public parks and such. They constructed skating rinks here and there around Boston.

They were spartan affairs, but didn’t seem so to us, because all we had was the corrugated ice on the local pond, and we had to shovel that first. Some people think that sort of activity, born of privation, builds character. People that think that have never met me. I don’t have a trace of character, and I went through all sorts of inconveniences.

The MDC rink we frequented was on the banks of the Charles River, on the Jamaicaway, I think, and it was simply a roof over a patch of ice, with a chain link fence for walls around it, and a blockhouse where you could rent someone else’s athlete’s foot by the hour. They threw in the skates for free. They also sold hot chocolate that wasn’t either of those things. It was a long car ride from where we lived, and it seemed very cold, but we loved it.

During public skating hours, they’d play organ music over loudspeakers they had borrowed from a defunct prison camp or something. It transmogrified the music into something not quite musical. It was the same hoary old stuff the organist at Fenway Park used to play, only recorded.

There were usually a lot of people. There were all sorts of rules posted, all ignored, mostly, except by custom, but there was one, big, hairy rule that everyone followed uniformly: Everyone skated the same direction at the same time. You’d skate counterclockwise for 15 minutes or so, and then a voice would break into the groaning organ music and bellow: SKATE TO THE RIGHT!, and everyone would immediately stop and go clockwise. To this day, whenever I hear any sort of Hammond organ music, I still mutter skate to the right to myself.

I was little and in awe of my father. He could skate pretty well. I had a problem. I could only skate to the left. When the direction was reversed, I’d have to cross my left leg over my right to make a right turn, and I’d fall down. A lot.

Humans are practical creatures, and devise various strategies for dealing with such failings — almost all of which involve avoiding trying. I’d say I was cold, and sit down on a metal bench the temperature of Neptune, or hang on the boards and lie like a Turk in a bazaar and say I was tired. When the disembodied voice re-appeared and said SKATE TO THE LEFT again, I’d go back at it.

My father gave me some good advice, which I still remember. He said that if I didn’t want to learn to skate that I shouldn’t go skating. It would be a waste of time, and I should simply do something else that I really wanted to do. But I enjoyed my counterclockwise self, so it’s more likely that going clockwise was just a difficulty that I could overcome with effort and intellect. If I was happy fifty percent of the time, why not make it a hundred? 

He told me that I had to figure out the aspects of skating I was bad at, and only do them. He told me to sit on the arctic bench and hang on the boards when the direction favored me, and only skate to the right.

It’s counterintuitive to do this. Go with your strength everyone says. There’s an entire school of thought in business called the Hedgehog Strategy. Find one thing you do well, and only do that one thing.

Dad said don’t go with your strength. Take your strength for granted. Work on your weakness. It was marvelous advice, and not just for skating. Businessmen, especially small businessmen, rarely understand the concept. In large organizations, your boss exists to do one thing: make you skate to your right. Left on your own, you’d do whatever was easy and file everything difficult under M for manana.

That’s why most everyone hates their boss; he makes you do things you don’t want to do. If you were wise, you’d realize it’s in your own best interest to learn to skate to the right, but that’s not why he asks you to do it. If you don’t skate to the right, he gets fired and can’t afford to get the GI Joe with the Kung-Fu grip for his kids for Christmas. So he makes you. His boss makes him. And so forth. 

When people want to start their own businesses, 99 percent of the time it’s because they think that if they don’t have a boss, no one can make them skate to the right. They’ll go with their strength. Of course their strength is likely not of any use to the public. If you’re in business on your own, you don’t have one or two bosses. The general public is your boss, every man-jack of them. And they’re not interested in the fact that you can really check boxes on forms, or your desk is really clean, or that you’re amazing at leaving witty comments on FARK all day. They want their stuff. They all want you to skate to the right all the time. But they only have one way to make you skate to the right. They starve you out. They go away and never come back. The public is so much more cruel than the worst boss in this regard, because they almost always say nothing to you. They figuratively kill you without telling you why. They would tell you why, but listening to the customers is the A, Number One, Primary, Overarching, Central and Foundational example of skating to the right for almost everyone. That’s why salesman make so much money and do so little heavy lifting.

So my advice, for all you owners and managers and employees of businesses, is simple: Your business should skate to the left, hedgehog style, all the time. Go with your strength. All your employees, and you if you’re an owner or manager, should work on skating to the right all the time, to make it possible for the business to keep that Business Hedgehog fed, so all his spines don’t fall out from inanition. There’s a name for a hedgehog without spines that curls up into a ball and plays dead. That word is “lunch.” 

Most managers do not have a deft touch at making demands for clockwise skating. They grab you by the shirt collar and drag you to the right. My father wasn’t like that. He told me why I should try, and I believed him, and I made up my mind to try as hard as I could, because I’m stubborn. I battered my knees with fall after fall, and heard the tittering of everyone wondering who the clumsy kid was, but I eventually learned. I got to be as facile one way as the other.

Filled with a bit of pride, I said, “Dad, I think I can skate to the right better than to my left now.”

“Now skate backwards.”

Tag: business

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