Craftsmanship, Brussels, Chinese Script, Grit, Kookaburras, Talmud

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Professional Corner Cutting

Havoc | 8th May 2016

How to do a good job for a customer — whether building furniture or writing software. “It is irresponsible to ask the customer (or manager, or other not-doing-the-work stakeholder) to tell you how to make technical tradeoffs. Cabinetmakers didn’t ask their customers how flat a tenon had to be and this is not the customer’s problem. The customer wants us to do it properly but not wastefully. It is our decision how to go about this, and if we get it wrong it’s our fault” (1,200 words)

Planet Brussels

Stephen Castle | Demos | 9th May 2016

Long-time Brussels correspondent explains the particular problems of reporting from the European Union institutions. There is no power in Brussels, only process; the power is all in the national capitals. Everything happens at a snail’s pace, usually in committees. Clear-cut events are rare, surprises even more so. Small wonder that British voters have very little sense of how the EU works; they would lose interest immediately if anybody tried seriously to explain it to them (960 words)

Alphabets, Chinese Characters, And Computing

Jeff Wasserstrom | LA Review Of Books | 4th May 2016

Chinese is a world script and China is an IT giant. This wasn’t supposed to happen. Conventional wisdom for the past two hundred years held that China would have to abandon character-based writing and embrace alphabetization in order to prosper from world trade and technological change. What did we miss? Tom Mullaney, history professor and Chinese IT researcher, explains how the supposed limitations of the Chinese language turned out to be opportunities for innovation (1,980 words)

Know When To Quit

Tim Harford | Undercover Economist | 10th May 2016

We view persistence as a virtue. Repacked as “grit”, it is making a big comeback in the self-help industry. But it only works if you are doing the right thing to start with. Better to view decisions as experiments, not as tests of staying power. “Experiments are always designed to teach us something. What have I learnt? And am I still learning? If a new project or activity keeps teaching us new things, it is probably worth continuing — even if the lessons are sometimes painful” (888 words)

Funny Bird

Jennifer Holland | Last Word On Nothing | 10th May 2016

All about kookaburras, the “stocky, big-beaked birds” native to Australia which laugh each day at dawn and dusk. The call is territorial: “One bird coughs up the first chuckle before the group hysterics kick in”. Breeding pairs are monogamous, which is sweet, but family life is murderous. The strong chicks kill the weak. “They’ve even evolved a special bro/sis-murder weapon, a hook in the upper beak — a rare case of a physical specialization for sibling rivalry” (900 words)

The Talmud And Intellectual Gamesmanship

Adam Kirsch | Tablet | 10th May 2016

Adam Kirsch is reading a page of Talmud a day — and it doesn’t get any easier as he goes along. Today’s question: What happens if a man marries two or more sisters concurrently? Polygamy was legal when the Talmud was written, but marrying sisters was not. So is a forbidden betrothal a betrothal or not, and what do you do about it in either case? “Because halakha is one vast system, you can easily start out talking about betrothal and end up talking about tithing or agricultural laws” (1,350 words)

Video of the day: Chinese Army Recruiting Video

What to expect:

The voiceover begins: “There could be a war at any time. Are you ready for that?” (3’06”)

Thought for the day

Two wrongs don’t make a right, but they make a good excuse
Thomas Szasz

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