Originally published as Systemantics, the pun in the title carries the important message that systems have “antics” — they act up, misbehave, and have their own mind. The author is having fun with a serious subject, deciding rightly that a sense of humor and paradox are the only means to approach complexity. His insights come in the form of marvelously succinct rules of thumb, in the spirit of Murphy’s Law and the Peter Principle. This book made me 1) not worry about understanding a colossal system — you can’t, 2) realize I can change a system — by starting a new one, and 3) avoid starting new systems — they don’t go away.
The lesson is that whatever complexity you are creating or have to work with — a website, a company, a robot, a tribe, a platform — is a system that will over time exhibit its own agenda. You need to understand the basic laws of systems, which this perennial book (now in its third edition) will cheerily instruct you.
A complex system that works is invariably found to have evolved from a simple system that worked. The parallel proposition also appears to be true: A complex system designed from scratch never works and cannot be made to work. You have to start over, beginning with a working simple system.
We begin at the beginning, with the Fundamental Theorem: New systems mean new problems.
The system always kicks back — Systems get in the way — or, in slightly more elegant language: Systems tend to oppose their own proper functions.
Systems tend to malfunction conspicuously just after their greatest triumph. Toynbee explains this effect by pointing out the strong tendency to apply a previously successful strategy to the new challenge. The army is now fully prepared to fight the previous war.
This is probably the last Hangout I’ll be doing for the Cool Tools book. This Wednesday at 4pm PST.
The Wirecutter is like Cool Tools on steroids. Begun by Brian Lam, this site does deep reviews of popular item categories. Wirecutter writers will spend up to 30 hours researching the best blender, or point and shoot camera, or flat screen TV, and then try to reduce their recommendation to a single item. They don’t review the same wide range of stuff that Cool Tools do, and unlike Cool Tools, they show all their work and research. I am a huge fan of the Wirecutter and its companion Sweet Home, and have often discovered great items that later make it to Cool Tools. Brian Lam is also a fan of Cool Tools. I’d thought it would be great to conversation online about our common pursuits.
This Wednesday at 4pm PST, I’ll be joining Brian Lam, Mr. Wirecutter himself, in a Google Hangout on Air. We’ll take up to 8 folks into the Hangout as participants. Sign up here. At the time of the event, the first 8 to accept the invitation I send out on G+, will get in. Everyone else can watch the event live at this link.
Hope to see you there.
I’ve had this wrench for 11 months and it’s far exceeded my expectations. I’ve had other makes before, but they never had enough torque for heavy-duty use. This Snap-on has so much torque that I have never been stuck trying to remove seized and rusted nuts. The only problem I’ve found is with small bolts you have to be careful not to snap them as the torque is so great.
We use a lot of 38mm nuts and bolts on excavator attachments out in the field and in the past I’ve had to rely on using a short scaffold tube on breaker bar to get them tight enough that they don’t work loose. Now all I need is this amazing impact wrench.
Another great thing is that because of the way impact wrenches work I can do this on my own, holding the bolt with a spanner with one hand and tightening the nut with the wrench in the other. In the past it was a two man job.
It is more expensive than some others, but if you have the need for a heavy duty cordless impact wrench then this is by far the best one in my opinion.
Next Monday, February 24, at 2pm PST I am hanging out with Tim O’Reilly. Tim is the founder of O’Reilly Publishing, and a early promoter of open source everything. At the dawn of the internet, Tim published the Whole Internet User’s Guide and Catalog, which did a pretty good job of rounding up and reviewing everything of note on the internet at that time (mid 1980s). It was inspired by the Whole Earth Catalog’s “access to tools” mantra, later the inspiration for Cool Tools. Recently, Tim was instrumental in launching the Maker movement and Maker Faires, which further promote tools to make stuff for everyone.
Tim and I will talk about the lineage of Whole Earth, Whole Internet, Cool Tools, and Make. There seems to be a thread of amateur enthusiasm, do-it-yourself and hacker ethic. Or maybe we have this wrong. Tim is a techno-philosopher with great observations on the role of tools in society. I expect it will be an intense conversation.
We’ll go for about an hour.
There’ll be 8 of you joining us in the hangout. You get to ask questions. If you are interested in being one of the 8 sign up here.
About 1:55pm PST on Monday, I’ll send a G+ invite to everyone who signed up. The first 8 to accept at that time will get in.
Everyone else will be the audience. The whole conversation is streamed live and also archived on YouTube for later viewing at your convenience. To watch go here.
[Transom Story Workshop teaches new students how to create narrative stories for radio. The kind of short stories you might hear on NPR. Their tech guy, Jeff Towne, posts a current recommendation list of the best basic radio journalism tools. He keeps up with testing out new gear and is always the place I (KK) go to find the best inexpensive recording gear. This updates their previous recommendations.]
Students at the Transom Story Workshop tend to be beginners. Many have never picked up a mic or turned on a recorder before. So, it was important for us to choose a field recording pack that both sounded good and was simple for novices to use. Plus, since the workshop started from scratch in the fall of 2011, we needed to find gear that fit our start-up budget. We landed on the following and feel we made the right choices:
Recorder: The Sony M10 ($209). We can’t say enough about how good this recorder sounds. It’s VERY quiet. And, it has a solid, built-in limiter. Those two components were important to us when selecting a recorder for students because new producers often don’t pay close attention to the levels. Having a quiet recorder and a good limiter helps a student make better recordings. I would have preferred, maybe, the Sony D50. It seems more durable. But, the M10 is solid, lightweight, and has fewer bells and whistles to learn — and it’s half the price.
Mics: We have a slew of mics on hand for the students including the Electro-Voice RE-50 ($169), the Beyer-Dynamic MC-58 and MCE-58, and the Audio Technica AT8010. I’m a fan of the RE-50 and the MC-58 for new producers because they are more forgiving of mic handling noise. But, all of these are excellent mics.
Headphones: For the price — $28 — the Sennheiser HD202 is a good set of “cans.” They help isolate external sound, they’re fairly comfortable, and they reproduce sound well. Yeah, they aren’t the Sony MDR-7506s we love, but we were on a budget and everyone is happy with these headphones. Never a problem.
Thirty years ago keyboard players would stack their second keyboard on top of something sturdy, like a 350-pound Hammond organ, or 150-pound Rhodes piano. The top keyboard (such as a clavinet or monophonic analog synthesizer) did not bounce no matter how hard you played it.
Thankfully today a 20-pound rompler [a keyboard that plays pre-recorded samples instead of generated waveforms] can replace all those old heavy keys, but I don’t like the light bouncy feel of X-type stands.
A few years ago I heard about the Standtastic series, and found it simply does not bounce. It’s as solid as granite. I bought two and keep one in our practice room and another for my gigging rig.
One of the problems with water bottles is their bulkiness, especially when empty. The Vapur water bottle collapses and rolls up into a tiny package about the size of a change purse. It’s BPA free and dishwasher-safe. It weighs about 1 oz, you can fill it with water and freeze it. There’s a carabiner on it so you can attach it to stuff to carry it. Capacities range from 0.4 liter to 1 liter-sized bottles. The manufacturer sells replacement caps and carabiners, and a new kind of bottle with whose flip-top cap has a built-in carabiner (I do not have personal experience with, but looks like an improvement on the older style). There’s even a variety with a built-in filter for outdoor use. I’ve had a couple of these for about a year and it’s become my gym bottle of choice.
For years I’ve loved GlassLock Containers [reviewed on Cool Tools] because they seal water-tight. I also love that they are glass (no chemical leaching, microwaveable).
But they are relatively expensive — $45 for 9 containers. When I pack some lunches, my wife doesn’t have enough for leftovers. Since they come in different sizes, I’m always looking for the right lid.
The Tattler Reusable lids work better for my lunches. $7 for the lids and $20 for a dozen widemouth pint jars. Now I’ve got a dozen smallish water-tight containers with interchangeable lids. Widemouth pint jars are freezeable so I can freeze if I need to. If I was motivated, I could also these for canning or pressure canning. (Mmm, Chili.) Since widemouth jars are pretty pervasive, it’s easy to find smaller or bigger jars.
[I use widemouth canning jars to store nuts and seeds for snacking. Plastic lids are more convenient than 2-piece canning jar lids for this purpose. - Mark]
I don’t own the pen where this product is used as a refill, but I do use this in situations as an emergency back-up micro-pen.
I keep one in my wallet for the times when I don’t have a regular pen, and they’re the right size for a pocket-sized or mint-tin survival kit.
It has a good flow for a pen without a body. Not good for long-form writing, but it’ll more than do for a quick signature or short note.
We try not to think about clogged toilets, an unpleasant subject, until it happens to us. I don’t know why plungers became the default household tool for unclogging toilets, because they don’t work 100% of the time. Closet augers do, and they don’t require bending over a smelly mess and splashing the foul water up and down, either. That’s why plumbers use them when you pay them hundreds of dollars for a house call. Augers are cheap ($30), very easy to use and also easy to store (they’re called closet augers, after all). So get one, now, before you need it. Then when you do, leave the bathroom, and take a few deep breaths to relax while you watch one of the short how-to videos on YouTube. You pull the handle out so the bulb is right up against the curved tube, protected by no-scratch plastic. Then put the auger into the bowl (no need to bend over), and push and spin at the same time until the handle is all the way down. The most gratifying part is the moment when you actually break through the clog – whoosh, the toilet flushes just like it’s supposed to. A few more normal flushes to rinse the toilet and the auger, pull it out to dry, and put it back … in the closet.