Cool Stuff

Fu-Go, The Japanese’s best kept secret weapon of WWII

One of my absolute favorite things of late is listening to awesome podcasts like Radiolab and This American Life. I love stories, and these guys consistently tell some of the coolest ones around.

On this recent Radiolab podcast I heard the story about the Japanese secret weapon, the Fu-Go. I’m a big WWII buff and I’d never heard the story and was captivated by the sheer creativity involved.

Flummoxed by the Doolittle Raid on their homeland, the Japanese created and floated some estimated 9,000 paper balloons equipped with fire bombs towards the U.S., taking advantage of the eastwardly flowing jet stream.  The vast majority didn’t make the voyage and most of the remaining came down in sparsely inhabited areas and didn’t explode.

A map of Fu-Go landings and known explosions.

A map of Fu-Go landings and known explosions.

These things landed all over the Pacific Northwest and a few even made it to British Columbia and even to outside Detroit. Thankfully, they had virtually no real impact for the volume that were sent and only lead to a few deaths – which are really tragic to hear about.

The military kept the whole thing secret to avoid panic and the media at the time willfully complied as patriotic supporters of the war effort.

Model of the complex mechanisms used to allow the Fu-Go to travel over 5,000 miles - 10x what a typical balloon of that size could travel.

Model of the complex mechanisms used to allow the Fu-Go to travel over 5,000 miles – 10x what a typical balloon of that size could travel.

As the balloon needed to travel at 30,000 feet to take advantage of the fast moving jet stream, the biggest obstacle was the gas condensing during the nighttime. In order to keep it aloft, an altimeter would ignite a fuse, dislodging a sandbag hung from the bottom of the balloon which would shoot it back into the jet stream. The Fu-Go contained 30 of these sandbags to help it bob up and down all the way from Japan to the mainland of the United States.

The creativity involved to solve an insurmountable problem with the minimum of expense or effort would be just awe-inspiring, were the pursuit not so heinous in nature.

If you’ve got an iphone, go to the podcast icon on your phone and search for Radiolab – it’s completely free and new episodes come out weekly. Plus, there’s an absolute trove of back episodes you can download and listen to anywhere.

Don’t be a Lumberg – The Sacred Duty of All Leaders

Yeah. I’m posting a commercial. It works.

It works, unfortunately, because we’ve all been there. Some of us are there right now.

“Ah! You see this bulk? This bulk is great. Mmmmm. Look at it go.”

If you’re responsible for other people you have a sacred duty to not waste their time. You have an obligation and a trust to make sure that anything you require from them, that pulls them away from their mission, has value.

If you’re thinking about having a meeting, please ask yourself the following questions:

1. What do we want the participants of this meeting to come away with?

2. What’s the most efficient manner in which to do that?

If you can’t answer the first, or the answer is convoluted, then wait to have a meeting until the answer is clear. If you’ve answered the second question, but that’s not what your plan is – change your plan.

The irony would be humorous if it weren't so disgusting.

The irony would be humorous if it weren’t so disgusting.

Lastly, if you know the answer to number one, and you don’t know the answer to number two, seek outside help and ask members of the team. Involvement breeds commitment – the bored members of your team that are eye-rolling their way through meeting hell will jump at the opportunity to become part of the solution.

If you’re a manager, by all means, keep doing as you did before. You’re not reading this anyway.

If you’re a leader, you understand and respect people and you want to protect them. There is no greater evil than wasted time – start by doing everything in your power to kill it.

We’re all Liars?

Seth Godin’s book, “All Marketers Are Liars” is available in audio format for free on Youtube.

It’s a great synthesis of a lot of his recent ideas from TED talks and various interviews. I’m in love with his message of authenticity, honesty, and story telling. These really are my favorite things and my sticking points constantly in our dealings with Team Members and Customers alike.

Do yourself a favor and give it a listen while you’re working today, or on your next decent car ride and then talk about the ideas with a co-worker or your significant other.

Enjoy!

Sift Media has the right culture

While checking out the best of Slideshare 2014, I came across this gem. For anyone reading my blog, or anyone that knows me, this perfectly encapsulates my thinking on Company Culture and what it should be. Give it a quick run through and I think you’ll fall in love with it.

Auto-Calculating Carpet Loss of Life Excel Build

Yeah, it sounds like a mouthful, but you get it. With 2500+ bedrooms, anything we can do to make mundane tasks faster is a life saver, so we’re always looking for ways to make our lives easier (see our Mission Statement post).

Below is a sample shot of a feature I added to our Excel Turn board where we’ve loaded the last replacement date for every carpet in the community and it will give us a bill-back amount we should charge the previous resident (if at all) when we schedule a new replacement. Just enter the new replacement date and voila!

CarpetLossOfLife

We track our current carpet on a five year life span, but I’ve seen commercial grade products that may have a 7-8 life span. The cool part is we can change the total calculations by manipulating the price we pay for carpet up top on the page, or the life span if we switch to a stronger carpet and it will adjust all future calculations. Cool, right?

The other exciting aspect of this is we’re far more guaranteed to insure we’re properly charging back for this common loss and we can cross reference the totals for carpet bill-backs from our turn board with our budget’s actual charges to insure we didn’t miss anything.

Total build time was around three hours and another 2-3 hours of inputting the last known carpet replacement dates for each unit. Note: this was made slightly easier than usual as the entire property got new carpets during renovations in 2011, so not every single unit needed data input, we just assumed 2011 unless we’d had an invoice since then.

“Too Many Mind” or Why you feel flustered

I was watching “The Last Samurai” the other night on AMC with the movie notes (love that) and a scene stood out to me. At one point, Tom Cruise is getting his butt handed to him by a high-ranking Samurai and his host stops the sparring long enough to tell him:

Nobutada: Please forgive, too many mind.

Nathan Algren: Too many mind?

Nobutada: Hai. Mind the sword, mind the people watch, mind the enemy, too many mind… [pause] No mind.

Being present is the whole game. Existing right now, right here – with no other distractions is how excellence is born.

How are you going to make ends meet? What about the check engine light in your car? What are you going to do for dinner tonight? Relatives are coming in town and you haven’t cleaned the house – what are they going to think? Are these pants too tight? Is this shirt too big? Am I eating enough vegetables?

Stop.

Breathe.

Live here and now. Open your eyes. Quiet your mind. Too many minds, too much trouble, too little excellence.

My wife does this with our kids – she’s always present with them fully in her mind. Getting them ready to go, teaching them right from wrong, helping them – she’s always focused on them and nothing else. I admire that level of focus and dedication. Lord knows I have it when deep into a spreadsheet build, or when I’m working on this blog, or cooking – but not often when I’m with the kids.

We can focus on anything we want, regardless of how exciting or mundane it may seem. Folding laundry puts me in a deep zen state where all the swirling turmoil of life just dissipates into vapor. Laundry does that. I want it to be perfect, and beautiful and efficient. It’s not something I want to get over with, but something I want to master.

What part of your gig would be made better by eliminating some of your “mind” – losing the burden of worry that’s not serving you?

“Her” – What does it say about “Us?”

Having just watched Spike Jonze 2013 Oscar Winner for Best Original Screenplay, “Her” last night, I’ve been flooded with questions the last 24 hours, and not a soul to discuss them with that thought anything other than “that was… weird.”

Some SPOILERS beyond this point:

In fairness, it was weird. That’s what completely new things feel like – weird. Not the familiarity of the tried and true and too often repeated. And being so original it can make one uncomfortable with its intimacy. Not just the kind shared between the lonely poet-of-sorts and a computer program, but the unveiled honesty of the whole experience.

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From the start we see a famous pregnant woman’s photo (Demi Moore’s 1991 Vanity Fair cover, anyone?) come to life in Theodore’s mind as pure fantasy (weird, right?) and further to his brief, anonymous phone call with a woman who encourages him to choke her with a cat in order to bring the interlude to climax. Super weird. These aren’t things we’re used to seeing or thoughts of a nature we’re used to sharing.

Theodore is alone, and as he’s not surrounded by another person, there is no reason for artifice. He communicates like we all do with our most intimate selves – we just happen to be watching – and that’s the problem apparently. It is fully accepted and understood that we all live private lives that we don’t share with anyone – something always is held back for fear of how it will be construed. But Theodore doesn’t have this limitation: telling all to an insanely curious operating system (desperate to know the world and to know this man) he’s not at risk of being judged the same way his blind date will judge him.

In that last part there’s the bit of the ultimate male fantasy, I suppose: The woman who exists (it appears) to do little else but to love and care for us. Lest Ted get bored too quickly, he tells Samantha that he’s not ready for anything too serious. To our surprise she responds not as the demure, emotionally attached woman, but as an honest-to-goodness person of her own. She has dreams and wants, and doesn’t just live to make our guy’s life grand. That’s interesting and refreshing – because this is a love story and not just “guy has interactive phone-coitus with his OS and it’s totally weird but beautiful, kinda, because Spike Jonze put cool music over long shots of Phoenix riding a train.”

These characters are real and more importantly, honest. The normal bet-hedging we all do when we meet someone gets eliminated here. She’s forthright with her fears, though appropriately hesitant (for effect) and does her best to grow as a person. She wants him to be happy and wants the same for herself. Instead of being the trapped housewife we might imagine, she’s actually living an incomparably full life – one Theodore can never match.

Being that close (as viewers) to the unbelievable highs of new love and the (inevitable?) growing apart that these two go through, is an unsettling experience. So yeah, “weird…” is a perfectly appropriate description of “Her” but also woefully incomplete. It’s also about the scars of losing someone and the scariness of loving someone else again. It’s about selflessness and shared existence, about our desire to find happiness almost anywhere.

Could you love a computer program? I think most will be quick to dismiss the notion as too fanciful, but isn’t (sufficiently bright) Artificial Intelligence, still “Intelligence?” And isn’t that half or more of what we come to love about another person – or at least the part that really sticks? Sure, the way they wrinkle their nose when they’re about to sneeze, or the way they hold their coffee with both hands when it’s cold, are super cute, but is it the lion’s-share of why we love them?

In the end, isn’t it the relationship between our intelligence and another’s, that pulls the lever in our brain, the one releasing the dopamine and serotonin that cause us to get so insanely high that we act all kinds of crazy in love?

Amy: “Are you falling in love with her?”

Theodore: “Does that make me a freak?”

Amy: “No, no, I think it’s, I think anybody who falls in love is a freak. It’s a crazy thing to do. It’s kind of like a form of socially acceptable insanity.”

Would it have made a difference had Theodore reached Samantha on the phone randomly at the start of the film, as opposed to uploading her onto his computer? His having never known she was a program – would we view it any differently? There are plenty of people who have relationships that are entirely long-distance, one’s where they’ll never meet the person on the other end of the phone, or computer. Little odd? Maybe, but not dismissively so. 

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I’m haunted by so many aspects of this film: What does it say about the connections we make and the connections we don’t? Towards the end it kind of dawns on Theodore that everyone is having these silo-like-relationships. It’s almost a “Soylent Green is made out of people!” moment. But far less ominous, of course. Would such a relationship, undertaken knowingly, be “healthy” in any way? There clearly aren’t any ethical implications, right? Wouldn’t an unchecked AI with the power and sophistication of Samantha be incredibly dangerous? I mean, Terminator starts with far less in the way of operational processing power, doesn’t it?

More importantly: if Samantha can feel things, emotionally, what kind of responsibility does that place on Theodore (or anyone) to treat her in a respectful manner? Is an AI, regardless of how sophisticated, just a series of switches and impulses sending out hyper-realistic communication, but ultimately nothing more than so many magnetically positioned ones and zeroes?  And if so, should it be excluded from the same respect we pay to animals? Or the mentally deficient? If an AI (like the newly resurrected Alan Watts of the film) is created with a sufficiently complex “personality” does that mean it should be afforded the same rights as a person? Meaning it would be unethical to shut it down without due process?

Much like an iceberg, the total mass of questions this movie represents are largely unseen, I just wish more people saw the exposed parts for how intricate they are.

The 4-types of people you’ll work with

The 4-types of people you'll work with

George Lois sums it up nicely here in his book “Damn Good Advice (For people with talent)” – God knows I’ve come across all four of these and the only one that scares me is the fourth. We’ve all worked with plenty of people who don’t much and don’t want to do much – easy enough, they’ll just sit there. No worries. But the ignorant and industrious? God help us all.
If you can’t educate the #4, then attempt to re-purpose them. If that doesn’t work, get rid of them. If you work for them, and none of those have worked, find a new gig!