Wednesday, July 20, 2016

the best camera is the one you have with you

"The best camera is the one you have with you" is an old photographer's saying. What it means is, you don't need a fancy camera to do photography. Just do it with whatever you have.

Yesterday I took my daughter and a friend to visit Boston. We started at Faneuil Hall, and then they decided they wanted to visit the New England Aquarium. I have been to the Aquarium many times and wasn't really in the mood yesterday, so I walked them over,

then decided to go exploring.

Unfortunately, since I wasn't sure about the agenda, and my walk was sort of a spontaneous development, I didn't bring my regular camera along.  All I had was my iPhone.

And that's why I mention the above quote. I had a camera. Not the camera I wanted, but a camera nonetheless. With it's very wide angle, it has some limitations, but the image quality is amazing, and once you understand the effects of the wide angle, you can work with it to make interesting compositions. It doesn't hurt to have a few apps that let you do fun stuff like selective color. I made this with the app MobileMonet, which I think costs a couple of bucks in the Apple app store. Well worth it for making painting-like images, which I enjoy some of the time.

So I went roaming along the shoreline of the Harbor, looking for interesting images to make. 

There's something about the seedy side of things, the underbelly, that always draws my eye. This was an interesting composition, with the trashcans in the middle and the reflection of the harbor in the windows bracketing them. 

The North End, the historically Italian district of Boston is right near the Aquarium, so I went roaming through that neighborhood. Although I consider myself originally from the Boston area, I haven't spent all that much time in Boston proper. It was great to do some wandering.

And of course if you are in the North End, you have to eat. I wound up taking the girls to a cannoli at the Gelateri & Cannoli Factory. Amazing, made to order cannoli. 

What could have been a long couple of hours by myself turned into a visual adventure. I processed all these images on my phone, either using the onboard software, or MobileMonet. 

Are these the best images I have ever taken? No. But some of them are pretty cool. And I had a great time engaging with the scenery. 

We are all walking around with these remarkable cameras with powerful processing software. There is no excuse not to engage the creative side of our brains. The camera is for more than taking selfies and family pics. Its a great way to engage your brain in a different way. And it trains you to take in the beauty around you. Like the Nike commercial says, Just Do It. No excuses. 

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

thoughts on "How Google Works"

So first off, I really enjoyed How Google Works. There's a lot of good stuff about corporate culture at the 30,000 foot level, bu the authors also bring it down to the 50ft level as well with some suggestions about how to run meetings, how to do recruiting, etc.

I wrote some about the talent management aspects in this post on my other blog.

There's a certain breezy confidence in this book that all companies could run this way. I couldn't help thinking as I read the book that all this works really well when you have a high growth industry with a lot of margin, as Peter Thiel talks about in his book Zero to One. In healthcare delivery, we don't see that same kind of flexibility. At least I don't see it. Given the heavy handed regulation of the industry, it's much more difficult to be innovative. Schmidt and Rosenberg give lots of examples where Googlers take their 20% time and develop new products that lead to new revenue streams. When the government provides 50% or more of your revenue, and that revenue is tightly tied to specific actions and codes, it's challenging to develop new products because the demand is so rigid. The demand is further made rigid by the 3rd party payment system.

Oddly enough, Google faces a similar situation where users are not customers. This is an interesting comparison between healthcare delivery and Google. Most of Google's revenue comes from advertising - in particular when companies pay to have their sponsored links show up at the top of your search. So while you are the user, and Google wants you to have a good experience, you are not the customer. Googles customers are advertisers.
At Google, our users are the people who use our products, while our customers are the companies that buy our advertising and license our technology. There are rarely conflicts between the two, but when there are, our bias is toward the user. It has to be this way, regardless of your industry. (How Google Works, p. 216)
Who are a hospital's customers? Insurance companies (Mediare/Medicaid at 50% plus, as I said, as well as private insurers). Hopefully insurance companies and their insured members have aligned incentives, but that is inevitably not so, and there are a slew of economic forces behind that, including behavior facts like moral hazard.

If a hospital comes up with an innovative initiative that might be of value to its users (patients), it is hard to monetize that initiative because the customers (insurers) are boxed in.

So innovation is primarily focused on reducing costs and improving operational effectiveness. Good things in and of themselves, but they are not the kind of revenue enhancing innovations that Google regularly pursues.

Saturday, July 9, 2016

existential crisis just barely averted by microwave smores

smores - after

smores - before

getting touchy feely in the woods

college woods

I went for a walk in College Woods yesterday with Marley, as I try to do a couple times each week.

college woods

As usual, I brought along the camera to see what I could see.

Bringing the camera puts me in a different mind set than when I am just out walking. I become more aware of my visual surroundings. There is nothing stopping me from trying to be more aware when I am walking without the camera, but the camera gives me sustained purpose.

Usually I do not venture off the trail (though Marley goes zooming back and forth and all around once we are far enough into the woods that I feel safe letting her off the leash). Also, I usually don't touch anything while I am in the woods. I don't arrange my subjects - my goal is to see the composition as it is, not create a composition that was not there. College Woods is not a delicate ecosystem - it is a community trail - so touching things would really be OK within reason.

college woods

And so I was walking along and thinking about compositions got to really paying attention to the varieties of bark on the trees. This tree had bark that looked like scales. I kept thinking the scales looked like they had been made out of clay, with someone's thumb prints on them.

college woods

This tree's bark made me think of puzzle pieces - some sort of mechanistic rendition.

There were a few others. And they were so textured, I broke with my usual rule and touched them. I closed my eyes to really absorb the tactile experience, like a blind man would. Smooth, rough, jagged, rounded.

There are of course many other trees with many other barks in these woods. These are just a couple samples.

college woods selfie

I love these woods. All year round I love walking through them. They constantly change and yield new experiences. Sometimes it is the woods that change; sometimes it is me.

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Wagon Hill, Emery Farms - Exploring home


I drove back and forth down Rt. 4 last year every day when I was staying with my father and drove past a sign for "Wagon Hill Farm" (and also past the hill with the wagon on it - hence the name) and never once stopped to check it out.

Wagon Hill Farm is owned by the town of Durham where I now live. It's a 139 acre property with hiking trails, a community garden, and... a beach!

The amazing thing is that there are gems like this in every community. By gems, I mean little properties like this, museums owned by non-profits, or local businesses.

After we left Wagon Hill, I suggested we check out another place I had been driving by and wondering about, but had never bothered to stop at, a farm stand belonging to Emery Farms. The Emery Farm market is almost directly across Rt. 4 from Wagon Hill, so we just cruised over there in the spirit of exploration. It was a fairly typical farm stand with plants for sale and some local produce. They have a huge blueberry orchard (is that the right term?) where you can pick your own blueberries. Not sure what else they have - we'll have to return and do a little more research. They did have a small petting zoo with a few donkeys, goats, and chickens.


We bought some plants, not so much because we needed them but to give a little support to the business. I'm not a big believer in the local food movement. But I like having quaint things like farm stands around me. The only way to make those things economically viable is to patronize them. So we bought the plants more as a tip for producing something we like - the quaint farm stand - than the fact that we needed plants. If I needed plants, I would probably just go to Home Depot or Walmart and pick up a bunch.

Anyway, off the soap box - Emery Farm was another nice find. We'll go back just to be nostalgic, and maybe to pick some blueberries - though ours are starting to ripen now.

It was a nice adventure. You don't have to travel far to travel. There's always a lot to see if you open your mind to it.

Sunday, July 3, 2016

remembering mercantilism

As we get ready to celebrate the signing of one of the great documents in human history, I was reflecting on the fact that most people don't understand the political and economic system that the Founders were trying to turn away from.

Jefferson borrowed "the pursuit of life, liberty, and happiness" from John Locke's "life, liberty, and property"- a classic statement of natural rights, and the foundation of what Adam Smith called commutative justice.

The Founders lived in a period when politics was dominated by an economic theory called mercantilism. The Library of Economics and Liberty has a good description of the theory here. There were a couple of key assumptions about mercantilism that seem to be deeply rooted in the human psyche ( see Folk Economics ). One of the main tenets was a belief that imports were bad and exports were good. Sound familiar? I don't want to get into that particular argument here - let me just say that something like 95% of all professionally trained economists agree that free trade is generally good - even left-leaning, liberal economists. Along with import restrictions were the restrictions on the export of machine capital that could allow competing nations to be more productive, and restrictions on the free flow of skilled labor (again, because you didn't want your skilled labor working for the bad guys).

But another part of mercantilism, and this behavior goes back millenia, was the sale of monopolies. The king, for example, would sell or grant a monopoly on something like ship building to a noble, who would then have the sole right to build ships in the country. Anyone who wanted a ship had to buy it from the noble. It didn't matter if the noble's ship building company was poor quality. To build a ship yourself or to hire someone not employed by the noble was against the law. These were privileges that the Founders did not want in our country. This is an important part of the Declaration. Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness are largely a declaration of individual economic freedom.

You cannot have personal freedom without economic freedom. Economic freedom is a fundamental, natural human right. Personal freedom is meaningless without economic freedom. You have a right, a natural right, to pursue your happiness. And that did not mean you had a right to a welfare check or health care, or any of the other things that are very popular today. Today the Federal Government's primary function has devolved to handing out checks in one shape or another. In 2015, 46% of the Federal Budget was spent on three social programs - Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security. That wasn't the purpose of the Federal Government when it was envisioned by the men who wrote the Declaration.

As I sit here writing in 2016, I am afraid that we are marching toward a world of diminished economic freedom. We are drifting dangerously toward an economic world that functions not all that differently than the one that our Founders were throwing off. We are drifting toward a world where everyone will need a license from the government to work. Where you will have to petition some government official for permission to pursue the work you have a fundamental right to pursue. In a world where interior decorators require a license, where it takes less training to be a state police officer than a barber (forget about an EMT), we are in serious trouble of surrendering our liberty.

It's never about giving up one particular thing - whether a particular profession should be licensed, or whether zoning laws should be used to block people from making use of their own property as they see fit - it's about a system and where that system puts its priorities. Our system has become corrupt - it puts its priorities on taking and giving, on creating dependence, much like the monarchs of history. The Founders, in the Declaration put their priority on liberty. Government exists to preserve the rights; the rights are not derived from the government, but from the Creator.
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.--That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men - deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, --That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

bridges, change, and wisdom

I've not been very faithful about blogging lately because my headspace has been occupied with a lot of other things.

I turned 46 the other day. That's one of the things. Firmly into middle age now, closer to 50 than 40. I still feel like I am on a journey of exploration and I'm still not sure what I am going to do when I grow up.

I'm making a sharp turn in terms of my academic focus. I realized once I got to UNH that if I am going to work in the health management and policy realm, the thing I care most about is people, and how organizations integrate, develop, and empower people. So I'm starting a new research stream focused on "talent management". To that end, I have a new blog, cleverly named Bonica's Talent Management Blog, and a new Twitter, @bonicatalent . I've been a little better about posting to the Twitter account than the blog - the idea being to try to put something out every day as a form of discipline to keep focus on the new stream.

So professionally I am once again standing on a bridge that goes to unfamiliar territory. Life's a journey with a lot of crossing points like this.

Personally, I am at a few other bridge points, too. My kids are almost grown, and are slowly making their way out of my house and my control.

Other things, as well. Places in my mind that I want to cross, but haven't found the bridges yet. Or maybe haven't built them.

It's a cliche, but I do see life as a journey. Maybe that's because I have moved so many times in my life. But more than a physical journey. It is also a spiritual journey. At 46 I realize I have accumulated a lot of mistakes. I am much more sympathetic at 46 than I was at 26. Experience is a harsh and inexorable teacher. It shows us our imperfections and weaknesses whether we wish to acknowledge them or not. But it is not all mistakes and difficulty - struggle is the price of wisdom. I don't claim to be wise, but I am wiser than I once was.