Honesty as corporate enterprise risk management strategy

From the University of Missouri:

Researchers found companies that performed poorly yet blamed other parties -- such as the government, competitors, labor unions or the economy -- experienced a significant blow to their stock and had difficulty recovering. Companies that accepted blame and had a plan to address their problems stopped the decline in their share prices after their announcement, but those companies that blamed others continued to experience falling share prices for the entire year following their public explanation.

via ScienceDaily

App Camp for Girls 3.0

David and Katie are generously matching donations to one of my favorite causes today: Jean MacDonald's App Camp for Girls. I happily made my donation today.

It is estimated that only 20% of software engineers are female; that percentage is even lower among mobile app developers.

The same is true of technology classes in schools. There are few opportunities for girls to explore high-tech fields that aren't already dominated by boys.

Apps are rapidly becoming an important part the world's economy and culture. If women are left on the sidelines of this phenomenon, everyone suffers.

Learn more about how the money is used, and donate directly here.

Training happier employees

Kelly and Ben Decker writing for the HBR blog:

No one wants another checklist task that they have to complete. We want to be called to something greater. So instead of informing and directing your direct reports, aspire to inspire. When you focus on persuading them, you’ll be able to turn even a corporate initiative or new product launch into a cause that becomes their own. They’ll want to step up and own their results.

Just like the dog in the aptly selected stock photo atop this post, your employees will not only fetch those balls better and faster, they'll be happier doing it. And though the tennis balls all look alike, if you truly understand your employees' personalities, you'll be able to manipulate them into thinking that those balls do have meaning. Your employees will want to own the balls.

Weather lines and Apple Watch

I took a look at Weather Nerd back when Gabe Weatherhead mentioned it, but I decided to pass since I already had a relative abundance of weather apps on my iPhone.

Weather Nerd does many notable things, but superficially it presents a line-based temperature forecast much like Weather Line and Dark Sky, two other apps I use a lot on my iPhone.

In the week or so that I've owned an Apple Watch, I've realized just how much I value this line-based presentation. Seeing forecast highs and lows along a forecast line is much more reliable for day planning. So far, Weather Nerd is the only weather app available for Apple Watch that gets it right, and I'm happy to pay its developer for the information-rich display it puts on my wrist.

For years, weather services typically only reported a high and low temperature for a single day. But this is very misleading on days when, say, a high of 50 occurs at daybreak and a low of, say, 30 will occur late afternoon. Such situations are not uncommon.

I hope that Dark Sky and other weather apps follow the path set by Weather Nerd and bring their lines to the Apple Watch, which to me is the most ideal platform yet for checking weather.

My adventure so far with Photos and other mythology

So far, my move from Aperture to Photos has been mostly good. The new Photos app is a good fit for me. I don't do much professional editing, and I like having all of my photos available everywhere.

The only bumps I've experienced so far were related to the initial import from Aperture to Photos and the initial upload to iCloud Photo Library. I'm posting these anecdotes here in case it helps someone else. . . because as of the time I'm writing this, I did not find a lot of insight elsewhere online.

The initial upload was confusing (to me at least)

I don't have nearly as big of a photo library as a lot of people. I only have just over 10,000 photos and a little over 100 videos in my current iCloud Photo Library. I have a reasonably fast upload speed though my cable ISP (over 4 Mbps up), and online backups like Backblaze and Dropbox have always performed faster than I expected.

Even though I paused or turned off other online backup services during the initial iCloud Photo Library upload, it took much longer than I expected—approximately one week.

In the final days, I was able to speed up things by leaving my MacBook Pro awake and open as much as possible and also making sure the Photos app was open. Just based on my observations of network traffic, the iCloud upload services seemed to run faster when I did this.

The biggest point of confusion for me, however, was the iCloud Photo Library sync behavior during the initial upload. Shortly after I initiated the upload on my Mac, I activated iCloud Photo Library on my iPhone as well. The iPhone upload time was negligible (presumably because those photos were already in the cloud), but it surprised me when I did not see recently taken iPhone photos on my Mac.

Photos taken on my iPhone did not sync to my Mac at all until the Mac's initial week-long upload finished. In the weeks since it has finished, however, everything has been syncing just fine, and I've had no syncing issues at all. None.

But as the heading above says, the initial part was just plain confusing and unexpected. The fact that the photos were not syncing days after my Mac and iPhone were both connected to iCloud Photo Library did not inspire confidence, but I'm good now.

Local photo library sizes don't make much sense to me anymore

At some point during the initial upload to iCloud Photo Library, my Mac decided that it no longer had enough disk space locally for my photos (even though my local disk was the original source of all these photos. Hmmm. Yeah.).

This optimization setting seems to work extremely well on my 64 GB iPhone. I was initially concerned that by activating iCloud Photo Library on my iPhone, it would gobble up storage, but that hasn't happened at all. I have tons of free space despite having access to all of my iCloud-based photos now.

Because this seemed to work so well on my iPhone, I didn't have a major problem allowing the same optimization black box to run wild and free on my MacBook Pro, where I'm constantly running out of disk space anyway.

And so everything finished, and everything seemed fine until. . .

I recently noticed that my local Pictures folder (home of the photo library files) had ballooned in size to over 85 GB, and I was once again running out of disk space. This made no sense to me because the space occupied by my photos and videos in iCloud was only about 55 GB.

And so—I'm guessing—not unlike ancient agriculturists at the mercy of the heavens, I raised a fist to the cloud, albeit while cursing about very different problems than they ever did.

Local space taken up by Pictures folder on Mac

Local space taken up by Pictures folder on Mac

Size of photos and videos stored on iCloud servers

Size of photos and videos stored on iCloud servers

Why were photos stored locally taking up 30 GB more disk space than the total size of the iCloud-based library, especially if my Mac was supposed to be optimizing for storage locally?

Well, I never got an answer to that question, but fortunately no data famine ensued, and after looking around online a bit, I decided I might as well try deleting my old Aperture and iPhoto library files. (I'm not sure why I had an iPhoto library since I had never used it.)

From my understanding, when you import to Photos from Aperture or iPhoto, it builds the new Photos library by making hard links to the source files in the older library files, but the import process does not actually delete the older library files. However, only one instance of your photos exists on your Mac; it's just that each library is pointing at that instance. Imagine that you have two shortcuts on your desktop, each pointing to the same 1 GB file. There's only one file, but it has more than one finger pointing at it. In theory, this should only take up 1 GB space on your disk, not 2 GB.

But anyway. . .

The key thing I realized is: Deleting the old library files should not actually delete any photos. (By the way, this is a great time for me to make it clear that it's not my fault if you wreck your own photo libraries.)

So I blew away the old migrated Aperture library and the iPhoto library that I never created in the first place even though Apple says I shouldn't have to do that. This immediately freed up an enormous amount of space on my local disk. I also noticed that Photos kicked into high gear downloading a bunch of photos.

Even though the photo count and iCloud library size did not change at all from the 55.65 GB pictured above (indicating that I most likely did not harm any of my actual data), I'm guessing that it needed to do some rebuilding locally using cloud data. Within an hour, the download had finished, and I had gained over 40 GB of disk space locally.

Local Pictures folder after library deletions and iCloud download finished

Local Pictures folder after library deletions and iCloud download finished

Staying with the overall theme of this post, this disk space issue was confusing initially, but everything seems fine now. I'm alive and well and in search of another First World problem to solve—most likely while consuming some unhealthy product made possible and affordable by mass agriculture. Clouds of all forms, be damned.

Peak U

Saving for college today feels like trying to land a bottle rocket on the moon. My kids, still fairly new members of this world, won't head off to college for more than a decade and a half, and most estimates I've seen say they'll need nearly $200,000 each to fully fund an in-state public university experience. This of course assumes that tuition inflation will continue at the breakneck speed it's sustained now for years.

The astronomical increase in college tuition over the last several decades doesn't make a lot of sense on the surface. Yes, we've become a more knowledge-based work force, and it seems reasonable to posit that the demand for education has increased. But the number of institutions has also risen greatly, and technology has greatly increased the accessibility of education.

In an Times opinion piece, Paul Campos essentially paints the modern university as a money-gobbling bureaucratic black hole. College tuition has increased sharply even despite increases in public funding:

In fact, public investment in higher education in America is vastly larger today, in inflation-adjusted dollars, than it was during the supposed golden age of public funding in the 1960s. Such spending has increased at a much faster rate than government spending in general. For example, the military’s budget is about 1.8 times higher today than it was in 1960, while legislative appropriations to higher education are more than 10 times higher.

Even more disturbing:

Interestingly, increased spending has not been going into the pockets of the typical professor. Salaries of full-time faculty members are, on average, barely higher than they were in 1970. Moreover, while 45 years ago 78 percent of college and university professors were full time, today half of postsecondary faculty members are lower-paid part-time employees, meaning that the average salaries of the people who do the teaching in American higher education are actually quite a bit lower than they were in 1970.

By contrast, a major factor driving increasing costs is the constant expansion of university administration. According to the Department of Education data, administrative positions at colleges and universities grew by 60 percent between 1993 and 2009, which Bloomberg reported was 10 times the rate of growth of tenured faculty positions.

To me, this has all the markings of a bubble. As we barrel faster and faster through a technological era which tends to flatten bureaucracies, what role will these institutions really play in ten or fifteen years? Should the number of people earning seven-figure salaries in the administration of a university approach that of a corporate board? What product is the university customer receiving in 2015?

What net value are universities adding to society if middle class graduates face an adult life enslaved to lenders?

The older I get, the more I attribute much of my financial freedom to never having paid a cent on student loans, especially when I see people my age still making payments on student loan debt that they've carried for the better part of two decades.

I value financial independence as much as education, and I believe that both will continue to be attainable for decades to come. It's becoming less and less clear to me what practical role universities—as we know them today—will play in that, though.


I recently joined Joe Darnell and Joshua Peiffer on their TechTonic podcast to talk about my work in actuarial web-based education. We also talked about possible futures that might come out of "big data." It was a cocktail of optimism and dystopia, but it finished pretty easy. I enjoyed it.

A little simple goes a long way

Wonderful words by Gabe, who is "skeptical of big problems with small answers." I agree completely with him, especially when it comes to the modern era of quick-shot journalism based on cherry-picked chunks of "science" and crumbs of big data.

I'm not ready to condemn TED culture and pop science, though. I think emerging science-flavored forms of entertainment can serve a vital purpose in our society. If a kid in 2015 gets turned on to a story "without end," to borrow Gabe's words, by watching a TED video or the like, I'm good with that.

I think entertainment is a vital ingredient in sparking interest, but I agree it's not the final answer, and it's definitely not a substitute for requisite complexity.

If it's possible to describe the ideal purpose of any human action in a single sentence, I believe Einstein did it with:

Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler.

I believe that when it comes to understanding the world, simplicity must precede complexity, and I think it's the fundamental duty of knowledgeable adults to provide simple foundations to those less knowledgeable. I think any means that accomplishes that goal is justified—provided that it's done to advance knowledge and not end it.