Fraud culture survived the financial crisis

    Stacy Cowley writing about Wells Fargo:

    “Everybody knew there was fraud going on, and the people trying to flag it were the ones who got in trouble,” said Ricky M. Hansen Jr., a former branch manager in Scottsdale, Ariz., who was fired after contacting both human resources and the ethics hotline about illegal accounts he had seen being opened.

    This, along with her other compilation of personal accounts from Wells Fargo employees, is telling. Wells Fargo’s crimes (why is the word crime still not used more in the context of banks?) are some of the most significantly exposed since the financial crisis.

    I can’t help but wonder if all the time spent on massive pieces of bank regulation like Dodd-Frank was misguided. Regulation focuses on metrics, audit procedures, and corporate governance policies that are no match for real human behavior in an environment that rewards deception.

    I really feel like regulation needs to focus more on human behavior and group psychology. After all, the greatest systemic risks arise once the herd’s mentality shifts so that ethical behavior becomes the exception to fraudulent behavior.

    Though in a different context, this is exactly what brought the financial system to its knees in 2008. The few people that understood and acted in accordance with the truth became the fools.

    Tables are hard unless you own TableFlip

    I’ve been a fan of Christian Tietze for a while. He was one of the original people to fork Notational Velocity in a more Markdown-centric direction—a burst of evolution in 2010 that later culminated in Brett Terpstra and David Halter’s nvALT.

    Christian’s latest contribution to the world of plain text writing is TableFlip, a wonderful Mac app that solves a problem that’s as old as HTML: making tables for the web sucks.

    Even though Fletcher Penney’s MultiMarkdown made creating tables in a Markdown-kind-of-way possible—and significantly easier than hand-coding HTML tables—creating a table in plain text is still a visually challenging task. For very small tables (e.g. 2x2), it’s fairly straightforward. But for larger tables, the column alignment becomes cumbersome.

    Before TableFlip, I usually created MultiMarkdown tables with a spreadsheet workflow. This worked well, but required a lot of ad hoc spreadsheet formula writing and also meant I had to store spreadsheet files indefinitely for any tables that I might want to edit later.

    TableFlip is the best of the plain text and spreadsheet-like world in one. It provides an intuitive spreadsheet-like tabular interface, which makes creating tables from scratch really easy.

    When you’re ready to plant the table in your plain text file, you can simply copy it as MultiMarkdown to your clipboard. As a bonus, it comes out beautifully aligned in plain text as well.

    You can go the other way, too. TableFlip can read an existing MultiMarkdown table into its tabular UI. You can even copy an existing MultiMarkdown table and create a new table in TableFlip from the clipboard.

    For me, this two-way feature is brilliantly simple and effective. It shows that TableFlip is made for anyone who knows all the practical difficulties of working with tables.

    I’m excited for the future of TableFlip. Christian is planning to add even more features, including LaTeX export. I really think TableFlip is a must-have for anyone that routinely creates tables as a part of any kind of plain text writing workflow. Like I said before, making tables sucks. But now I have to modify that statement:

    Making tables sucks unless you own TableFlip.

    At $18.99, it’s a no-brainer, but you can get it even cheaper than that through October 31.

    Diverting screenshots from the Desktop

    Downloads is by far the busiest folder on my Mac. Almost all files to Downloads before other destinations. Hazel keeps a watchful eye on Downloads and does all sorts of file moving magic, never leaving anything there for more than 24 hours.

    For some silly reason I’ve always accepted that screen shots in OS X (now macOS) are saved directly to the Desktop. Today I finally learned that screen shots, too, can go straight to Downloads (or any other folder). No more F11‘ing to view my Desktop. Now, like all other download-esque files, I can grab recent screen shots from the fan view of my Downloads dock shortcut.


    Modern survival is antithetical to everything evolution programed us for. Today we have to:

    1. Eat much less than is available
    2. Move much more than we have to
    3. Take many more daily risks than we have to

    Today, complacency is the tiger rustling in the bushes. Vulnerability is the key to longevity.

    Applauding the epitome

    David Hansson on not hating modern Apple:

    There’s just something deeply inspiring about seeing what companies, teams, and people can accomplish at the peak of their ability. Especially when it’s happening not just for a single season, but as a reign of excellence.

    Post-1997 Apple, Alabama football under Nick Saban, even the US economy post-World War II: non-fans love to make digs at a perennial winner. But I agree with David. It’s OK to admire any person or entity that can sustain peak success.

    Survival and hunger will naturally motivate any organism. But it’s uniquely human to redefine the possible just for the sake of it. It’s the loneliest of places to work—at the top. But those that do elevate us all.

    Pros and cons of the wireless future

    The ear bud status quo

    • Cons
      • Persistently tangled ear bud wires
      • Wires catching on things while walking
    • Pros
      • No battery life issue
      • Nothing additional to charge
      • Cheap (they’re in every drawer of your home by now)

    The wireless AirPod future

    • Cons
      • Another wire on the night stand (another battery to charge)
      • No music when the battery dies
      • Additional pairing step for use with Mac, iPad, etc.
      • Easier to drop and lose
      • More expensive to buy/replace
    • Pros
      • Fewer tangled wire issues
      • Only plug in a wire once per day instead of throughout day
      • More practical to use in a car (but why?)

    Conclusion: This is going to take some courage.

    Decoupling the original vision

    Efficient creative work at the edge of the adjacent possible is basically:

    1. Envisioning your dream home fully built
    2. Finding the most elemental materials to build it
    3. Building a completely different and better home than you ever could have imagined

    Inefficient creative work is the failure to release the original vision—the false notion that you can know in advance what lies beyond the been-done-before.

    It was the glass-half-emptiest of times

    The Guardian:

    In an ironic vicious circle,… the despair that people feel – about developments including the rise of Trump – is the same kind of thing that fuels the rise of Trump. (The campaign to leave the European Union seemed similarly focused on sweeping away the status quo and hoping for the best.) The sense that the world is an increasingly terrible place, whether or not it really is, is itself a phenomenon with real effects that we can’t afford to ignore.

    Earlier in the article:

    The trouble is that, when it comes to getting an accurate grip on things, the modern media and the human brain are both strikingly poorly designed.

    Perhaps making the world better has to start with the realization that it’s far, far better than we perceive. No easy feat when our social information systems and senses prioritize negativity above all else.

    A penny for your apps

    David Sparks made a sobering observation on the closing down of the note taking app Vesper:

    If the dream team couldn’t make it work, who can?

    In my mind, the challenge faced by productivity app developers can be traced to the Jekyll and Hyde personas of a capitalist citizen:

    1. Joe Seller wants a monopoly market
    2. Joe Buyer wants a commodity market

    In most markets, profits spike initially then dissipate as #1 moves to #2. With modern software, this transition happens at the speed of thought. It doesn’t matter how prolific an app team might be. Never before have so many people known how to code. Never before have software products been so accessible to so many.

    The decentralization of software development and distribution makes establishing monopolies or seller-controlled markets virtually impossible. Software is an extreme opposite to a product category like pharmaceuticals. An app developer can’t pull off an EpiPen. As soon as a great app appears, clones abound.

    I could go into the App Store right now and find 20 great note taking apps whose pros and cons cancel out. Any one of them would be great for me, but I can’t use them all.

    Pricing apps as non-digital goods is hopeless in the long run. If you’ve read the Internet at all, you’ve seen what I call “the latte rationalization,” which goes something like this:

    If you spend $5 a day on coffee, why can’t you spend $5 one time on an app that benefits you every day?

    This is a great example of an argument that holds up from a rational perspective but fails spectacularly from a behavioral perspective.

    Most people who buy apps do so in response to the pleasurable feeling of experiencing something new. It’s a sensation—a very fleeting one. This is extremely different from the recurring pleasure people get from regularly consuming caffeine and sugar—substances that please a much more primitive part of the brain than cerebral software-based productivity can ever hope to in the current version of the human mind.

    As I’ve written here before, software is simply a form of encoded human information. People are willing to purchase information, but they will only spend so much, and they will only purchase the same information so many times. There is no pleasure center in the brain for redundancy.

    A service model might be the answer, but only if buyers believe the service is unique and essential. That is, it must provide new and useful information on an ongoing basis. For most successful business models, this means the real product is not the app, but the thoughts that pass through the app.

    We may step back one day and realize that the software economy was humankind’s first (inadvertent) success at valuing knowledge. For now, we’re learning the hard way that few thoughts are original.

    Procrastination is for the over-serious

    “Just start” is the generic advice you usually hear from someone trying to help a procrastinator. Another: “break it into smaller pieces.” Seems logical, but not very interesting.

    In my personal experience, the best advice is: “make it fun.”

    No matter your age, your mind still wants to have a good time. The best products are by-products of someone having good time—enjoying the process. So change the setting, spend some money, or just goof-off until something begins to materialize. Why not?

    DEVONthink To Go 2

    As a quick follow-up to my “state of my content address,” DEVONthink To Go 2 is now in the App Store. And it’s wonderful. The best all-media content manager for the Mac now has the iOS companion app it deserves.

    DTTG isn’t just a bandaid for my Evernote problems. It’s vastly superior for my uses. There are multiple options for syncing data, everything is encrypted in transit and storage, and the sync granularity is unrivaled. I can finally feel comfortable syncing sensitive documents like tax forms, and I can maintain massive archives of non-synced data on my Mac and local network without having them blow up the size of the databases on my iPhone. A place for everything.

    Ulysses batch export

    I agree with Federico Viticci that Ulysses is a great plain text writing app, and version 2.6 makes it even better. I bought both the Mac and iOS versions earlier this year, and began using it for both professional and personal writing. It provides a consistent, tight writing experience on both the Mac, iPad, and iPhone.

    But the more I wrote in Ulysses, the more this closing thought from Jason Snell’s early 2015 review of Ulysses began echoing in my head:

    Futureproofing is a big worry for me. And that’s why it might be dumb for me to do all my writing in Ulysses — sure, it’s possible for me to get my writing out if I stop using Ulysses. But is it practical?

    So eventually I stopped doing much personal writing in Ulysses because most of my personal writing is highly fragmented—bits and pieces of thoughts that sometimes sit idle for years before coalescing with other things. On one hand, this makes the Ulysses “sheet” concept perfect for the way I write, but it gets harder to fight the constant worry of always having access to those thoughts. That’s why I love open plain text storage of notes—I never have to worry about solving a tricky batch export from a proprietary system.

    Since the time I started using Ulysses, I assumed there was no batch export of sheets because there’s nothing in the UI to indicate that, and Jason’s comments lead me to believe sheets could only be exported one at a time (perhaps that was true in 2015).

    Fortunately you can batch export any group of Ulysses sheets to plain text by simply dragging them to an external folder. You have to add the external folder to Ulysses first. (You can’t just drag into the Finder because you’ll get unreadable .ulysses files.)

    Simple, effective, and future-proof enough for me.

    2016 is a great year for writing apps. Scrivener is also better than ever with its awesome new iOS app. There’s no reason not to try them all. Whatever it takes to keep writing—do that.

    On the perfect note taking app

    “Where did I put that file?” is always a better problem than “why didn’t I just write it down in something?” Global search gets better every day. First create, then worry about finding it later.

    Exporting math to English

    Erik McClure:

    I am sick and tired of people complaining that nobody likes math when they refuse to admit that mathematical notation sucks, and is a major roadblock for many students.

    I agree, and I think it’s a problem that plagues “students” in all phases of life—from elementary school to the very intelligent actuaries that I help pass their actuarial exams post-college.

    The learning challenge presented by overly formal mathematical notation is fundamentally a data visualization problem. The “data” encoded in mathematical notation are the generalizations represented by the letters, numbers, and symbols.

    This creates two major barriers:

    1. Cognitively, it is difficult to parse complicated notation while simultaneously simulating the outcomes described by the notation. In other words, it’s not plain English, and the human mind is not the numerical simulator we’d like to believe it is. It feels like reading computer code to learn a generality.

    2. Teaching generalizations is more like giving a fish than teaching how to fish. It encourages memorization, not individual discovery.

    The approach I’ve adopted after years of processing overly formal notation is to rewrite it for my students in plain English—or in practical examples whenever possible. Much like a well-designed graph, a formulaic concept is well represented when its audience knows what it means after rereading it as little as possible.

    Embrace struggle and repetition

    Daniel Coyle’s TEDx Talk, “Growing a Talent Hotbed” is well worth 18 minutes of your attention:

    A few related bookmarks this stirred up for me:

    “Malcolm Gladwell got us wrong: Our research was key to the 10,000-hour rule, but here’s what got oversimplified”:

    Unfortunately, this rule — which is the only thing that many people today know about the effects of practice — is wrong in several ways. (It is also correct in one important way, which we will get to shortly.) First, there is nothing special or magical about ten thousand hours.

    “People Favor Naturals Over Strivers — Even Though They Say Otherwise”:

    Our society is deeply conflicted about the source of excellence. On one hand, we are fascinated with child prodigies, portraying them as wonders of nature. On the other hand, we love a good “overcoming adversity” story, as it inspires us all to greatness.

    Jason Fried recently on Twitter:

    It’s never been easier to start something. It’s never been harder to keep it going.

    Most people obsess over point estimates of what it means to be average, and they fantasize about being above average. Outsized success requires—but does not guarantee—outsized perseverance. But practice is the one variable that’s most within our control.