Grace under pressure

Finally getting my head above water…so back to posting.  Hard to believe that it has been over eight months!

Perhaps it is a sign of my dotage, but I’ve come to appreciate the well-written “appreciation” (aka, obituary).  The best have a telling quote or anecdote that brings the person alive to the reader for one moment more.  Below, Joseph Epstein uses the first heart attack of his friend John Gross to tell us more about the man than any list of awards or honors:

I didn’t see the Sunday Telegraph, for which John became drama critic, but always thought it an amusing mating for a man with a taste for the absurd having to review so many plays that must themselves have been well beyond absurd. He was once seated in a London theater, watching a production of King Lear being done in mud, when he was attacked by severe angina. “Oh, Lord, I said to myself,” he told me, “dear Lord, please don’t let this be the last thing I ever see.”

Nothing like a dead man poking fun at his (and my) mortality.  RIP, John Gross.

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Getting, Spending, and Scope Creep

I recently saw a review of a book by Ronald Wilcox (review here, book here, blog here) on why Americans don’t save.  The topic in and of itself is timely — the US has been a negative net saver for years — but the review’s summary of the book provided an interesting clue to drivers of scope creep and insatiable requirement demands. 

We all have “reference groups” — family, friends, coworkers — that influence our spending patterns.  An academic can get a clue as to the car he should be driving by looking at the university parking lot: business school professors drive new cars, English professors older issues of the same brands. Volvos good, giant SUVs bad.

I know, you’re saying, what on earth does this have to do w/ scope and requirements?   Well, how often do you benchmark other applications, processes, buildings, products, etc. for ideas?  These are your “reference groups”.  What happens next is the kicker.

Unfortunately, the clues you get from your reference group are “one-sided.” You notice the Porsche more than the Toyota, the old heart-of-pine floors in a colleague’s house: “And, over time, my beliefs about what constitutes an appropriate level of consumption for my reference group shift towards extraordinary items that generally are more extravagant and costly than what I currently own.”  This is more than the traditional keeping-up-with-the-Joneses; it is keep-ing up with the most expensive items owned by each of the Joneses you get to know…

And we wonder why people come back from trade shows like kids in a candy store…

Is this what they mean by “smiling through the tears?”

Wow, medicine can now help us to take off the gloomy mask of tragedy and put on a happy face…

Credit: Peter Steiner, The Weekly Standard, 29 April 2002.

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