May 12, 2024

Don't win any contest

Some competitions are not worth winning, or participating. You shouldn't compete in lower categories; winning would disgrace you.

You know, the lion doesn't need to win competitions to be king.

This is why some competitions have only 30-40 applicants, the winner is unknown; winning is a sign of weakness.

In other news: no Eurovision song winner ever made the top10 US charts in 50 years, since Abba's 1974 Waterloo. There were 3 songs that made it before.

Eurovision is of course a solid event and contest, that has rewarded incredible songs and singers such as Abba, Céline Dion, Lara Fabian or Gigliola Cinquetti. Great many other songs/artists participated and lost, such as Domenico Modugno, France Gall, and even Abba.

Surely, you wouldn't see Queen, Beatles or Michael Jackson compete in Eurovision.

March 05, 2024

Villeneuve's Dune doesn't know if it is more like a book, or like a movie

There are authors like Frank Herbert and Philip K. Dick whose books are very difficult to make into a movie. Villeneuve proves this again with Dune. 

It is a nice movie. But it's not quite the book, and it's also not very different or new from the book.

Movies need action, and very often books have deeper messages. Dune the book is a metaphor about human society, about manipulation and power. It has very little technology. The action scenes are difficult to imagine or depict, e.g. the riding (or dismounting) of the worms, or the knife duels with force shields, or space travel based on spice tanks.

Having read the books a few times, the action is very predictable to me. With every reading, you find more subtleties and depths in the book. You cannot put these in a movie, otherwise you come up with a Tarkovski, and nobody watches.

Interestingly, there are quite a few great Philip K. Dick movies, but their secret is probably that they are mostly action, and didn't try to be a lot more. E.g. Minority Report, Blade Runner, Adjustment Bureau, Paycheck.

Dune is much more difficult to transform into an action movie, because the action doesn't make a lot of sense without the metaphors behind, and movie metaphors are different than book metaphors.

 The movie tries a little bit too much to be a book, while also being a movie.

February 20, 2024

Soft-skills and formal education

Xteen years ago, I graduated from university, got a job as a young software engineer, and discovered that school hadn't given me any of the soft-skills needed to function as an adult. I had no public speaking experience, presentation skills, negotiation, planning, team management, project organization know-how.

Sure, I had the vocabulary, I had read thousands of books, but I had no practical experience whatsoever. I didn't even know how to collaborate, because in college we were taught to solve problems alone, it was always a competition. In 5 years of engineering school, I don't remember even one group project, or a public speech (only the final master dissertation, also without guidance).

My first boss (and mentor) once told me that he needed time to trust me because I wouldn't look him in the eye when speaking, and he often felt  I was hiding something.

I needed software engineering and project management courses from Open University UK, to learn how to organize and collaborate.

I needed patient managers and mentors to teach me how to speak in public, lead meetings, motivate and organize projects and teams, create a strategy, a Gantt, an organizational chart or a budget.

I discovered project-based research and study only during the MBA (with American professors).

Soft skills are part of basic education in the Anglo-American world, in northern and western Europe. A few years ago, I met a student from Sweden who gave a phenomenal speech at a European conference, and he had very little domain expertise, but he spoke with a poise and style that left me speechless. In Netherlands, Belgium, Denmark, these skills are taught directly in elementary school. Project-based learning, team collaboration, creating and using slides and props, communication and oral presentation.

Digital bureaucracy

There's an IT system for digital communication with government authorities (MySmis).

To send an answer to any simple question, you need 5-7 overlapping digital signatures. 

You get an email telling you that you have a new message. You log in (electronic signature 1, not qualified). You download the question (usually a short text, very nicely formatted, header, footer, etc, and saved as pdf document, digitally signed, etc). You write the answer, save it as pdf, and sign the pdf with a digital qualified signature (2). You log in (3). Upload the answer. Optionally log in again. Download the receipt. Sign the receipt with a qualified signature (sic) (4). You log in (5). Upload the signed receipt. Receive a confirmation.

All this, for an answer that often consists of a standard text: "We confirm the budget, and the eligibility".

The entire process could be replaced by 1 email.

Digitization is not only about tools, it is also about processes.

I said a few years ago that if they would leave me unsupervised 3 days in a public institution, I would eliminate 90% of the processes and 90% of the jobs. And move staff to something better.

But that's how bureaucracies work. The purpose of bureaucracy is to grow the level of bureaucracy. Bureaucracy is power. Processes, forms, and approvals: are sources of power.

Parkinson said that officials have 2 major career goals: to multiply subordinates, and to create work for each other.

See also this post.

February 11, 2024

Bullying, professors, managers, and insecurity

Bullying is quite common among professors and teachers. And it has always been.

MY MOTHER was telling me about her professors, frustrated probably about their positions, shouting at pupils that they are barefoot peasants, polenta-eaters (mămăligari, opincari).

We all had professors calling us stupid. Professors also used to be violent - this is now prohibited.

The objective of many teachers is to demonstrate that their students are stupid. They fail to recognize the paradox that their students are largely the result of their own work.

Laughing at students, saying they are incompetent, diminishing them, insulting them, is a form of bullying. It is not pedagogy, it is destructive.

AND THE SOURCE of bullying is mostly frustration. Hiding a sense of inferiority, a lack of personal accomplishments. Especially when directed at people in a subordinate position, with significantly less power.

Because teachers hold a unique position of power, over a significant number of (young) people. The fact that they need to express this power through bullying signals insecurity. 

MAYBE some professions are more likely to attract or cultivate bullies. Teachers, doctors, soldiers, managers, and Hollywood producers.

Or, this simply reflects the overall maturity of society and its members.

Don't win any contest

Some competitions are not worth winning, or participating. You shouldn't compete in lower categories; winning would disgrace you. You kn...