The Truth about Cashews


History and Humility: My Weekend away from Work, and the Lessons I Carry Forward

This was our first Thanksgiving in Austin, and my first Thanksgiving, in some time, away from my family of origin in the Washington, D. C. area.  In the quieter setting, I could see more clearly the historical arc that had brought this holiday into my life.  I considered that my ancestors in Lithuania, some 100 years ago, may not have known of this holiday and certainly did not celebrate it.  My family’s transatlantic migration was part of a tumultuous century that dislocated innumerable peoples.  Seen in this context, it is no wonder that I strongly feel the pull of different value systems in my daily life, and in my consideration of the direction and meaning of my life entire.

I’ve recently watched the first two seasons of Downton Abbey.  I’m not a big TV watcher, and saw my first episode only a few weeks ago.  Yes, the series is a soap opera, but the sense of the historical period, which marked the most significant change since the French Revolution, is well-delivered.  Certainly, accordant reflections affected my thoughts on Thanksgiving thoughts.

The long weekend granted me some perspective, too, on the recent intensity of activity that accords with my new job.  The drive and focus that characterize my activity as a career-changer, in a new company, suddenly seem a bit tiresome.  To what extent are they motivated by the immigrant’s desire to make something of himself in the New Land?  At the same time, I still cannot allow myself the appealing and leisurely world view of an established.  That sentiment will surprise no one.  What I find interesting, however, is the process of emerging from the profound questioning a weekend away can offer.  I’ve found, at least this time, that I have little choice but to reengage my previous professional and personal goals, even if they seem a bit less self-determined, and a bit more derivative.

What does this have to do with staying afloat in a sea of data, of the subtitle of this blog would seem to query?  Well, it is just another, in a string of reminders, that the questions we ask about a complex world are only very slightly influenced by our incisive thoughts.  Rather, we are much more deeply influenced, in our questioning, by an historical context of which we are only vaguely aware.  We do not escape from this constraint when we engage with data or with business.  Just as when we think about who we are and what we are here to do, so, too, when we ask where to target our next marketing campaign: Our preconceptions are occasionally disrupted, but we constantly return to them, out of habit, out of ignorance.  Humility increases our sensitivity to the fainter indications that our thinking is in error.  It is both an honest and a useful response to the torrent of information that surrounds us.

Technology in Sports

I couldn’t resist sharing this article about how technology is affecting the way baseball is played.

Here’s a key passage:

“I think this is truly the second great renaissance in baseball,” says Joe Maddon, a visionary kind of guy whose embrace of technology, info and outside-the-box thinking has made him, for all intents and purposes, the Steve Jobs of managers.

The first great renaissance, Maddon says, arrived with Branch Rickey in the 1920s, ’30s and ’40s, back when Rickey was pioneering the use of (gasp) farm systems and (shudder) statistics.

And the second great renaissance? That’s been taking place, almost imperceptibly, over the last decade — but to a greater degree, just over the last year or two or three. . . . Think about it:

. . .

• All of a sudden, while you were busy doing your laundry or drafting your fantasy team or something, the world was quietly being invaded by an army of sabermetric wizards, capable of computing Justin Verlander‘s road FIP against sub-.500 teams in games in which he throws more than 20 percent curveballs — and actually understanding the significance of that.

ESPN and Sports-related Information

Lest anyone think that the tagline for this blog (“How to Stay Afloat in a Sea of Data”) applies only to business/government analytics, I’d like to share a recent sports article by Matt Mitchell (KVUE reporter – Austin) that addresses how sports-related information is created, digested, and broadcasted by ESPN today. A certain nautical feeling can overcome any observer ingesting a series of (often misleading) ESPN statistics but Mitchell makes a more general point about the influence the organization’s influence, in light of the its recent investment in the Longhorn Network, which will be dedicated to University of Texas sports:

The problem with all of this is the very real threat of sports hegemony when ESPN wields enough influence to alter the very sports it broadcasts by driving the national conversation.

ESPN’s distorting influence on sports stories came into sharp focus for me when the network raised LeBron James’ “Decision” about where to play basketball to unprecedented prominence before preceding to pillory him on a regular basis.

In Guy LeBord’s The Society of the Spectacle, the author observes that “modern industrial society . . . is based on the spectacle in the most fundamental way.” The trajectory in ESPN’s development validates that hypothesis in one particular sphere of society.