The other day I was reading some first-hand accounts of the war in Afghanistan, in Newsweek, as told by several Taliban fighters. Throughout their stories they would refer to various Taliban leaders, and Newsweek would parenthetically point out that said leaders had been killed by Predator missiles. And today I read somewhere that 14 out of 20 Al Quaeda leaders in that neck of the woods have been taken out by Predators.

This made me wonder about the future of the war. Let's assume the conflict drags on forever, technology keeps improving, and the American public loses all interest in funding the hunt for terrorists. What then?

My prediction is that millionaires will start buying time piloting Predator-like drones (drone clones) from home, the same way big game hunters buy licenses. You'll be able to literally fly the drone from your laptop, supported by mercenaries on the ground in the ungoverned region of Pakistan. For a substantial fee, the mercenaries will help you launch and refuel the drone, and act as spotters to help you find terrorists. The wealthy hunter at home will stalk the terrorists via remote control and wait for a clean shot, then BAM!

Your first reaction to this plan is that it would be highly illegal and often unethical, especially when the wrong targets are attacked. But that doesn't mean my prediction is wrong. The customer would be involved in this activity via the Internet, the same way you might access a gambling website if you lived in a town where gambling was illegal. If some country passes a law against remote terrorist hunting via Internet, the wealthy hunter can simply go somewhere that the law doesn't exist, such as Las Vegas. And the mercenaries would be operating in a part of the world with no functioning government. So I don't see the law being an obstacle.

At the moment, I assume this sort of business model would be uneconomical, even for the very wealthy. Drones and mercenaries don't come cheap. But drone technology will continue to drop in price while improving in performance. And mercenaries won't be that expensive once the Pakistani locals start filling those jobs.

Any country with a military capable of stopping the mercenaries will have no incentive to do so, since killing terrorists serves the interest of all existing governments.

I'm guessing that a private citizen can't legally buy a Predator, but as other countries start producing drones, which seems inevitable, it won't be that hard for mercenaries to get them.

What part of my prediction is unreasonable?

I was delighted to learn that The Economist ranked the business school where I got my MBA (University of California at Berkeley - Haas School of Business) as number one in the United States.


This makes me proud, even though there are a few minor differences in the program compared to when I attended. For example, the classes are now held in different buildings. The coursework is different. The textbooks are different. The entry requirements are different. I attended the evening program. And all of the professors are different. But the name of the school is totally the same! I'M NUMBER ONE! WOO-HOO! GO BEARS! I think this moves me one step closer to that Nobel for economics.

The rankings of business schools are highly reliable because they are derived by asking the opinions of students who have attended upwards of one business school each! You might think someone would crosscheck this sort of survey result with the psychology departments at those same universities. But on the face of it, I don't see any problem with asking students if they made (cough, cognitive dissonance, cough) wise decisions.

Kidding aside, I do credit Berkeley's MBA program for my success with Dilbert. It trained me to think more like a business person than an artist. For example, an artist listens to his inner calling and hopes the public agrees. A business person listens to the audience and gives them what they want; that's the approach I took. In 1993 I opened a direct line to Dilbert readers through e-mail, and adjusted the content according to their feedback. That was one of maybe a dozen key business decisions that helped Dilbert break through a crowded field. I joke about getting an MBA so I could become a cartoonist, but business school was literally the competitive advantage that made Dilbert a success.

You are what you learn.

From an Article in the New York Times, here is one of the coolest theories I've ever heard that isn't already an episode for Star Trek. This quote sums it up:

"A pair of otherwise distinguished physicists have suggested that the hypothesized Higgs boson, which physicists hope to produce with the (Large Hadron) collider, might be so abhorrent to nature that its creation would ripple backward through time and stop the collider before it could make one, like a time traveler who goes back in time to kill his grandfather."


Obviously the phrase "abhorrent to nature" has no precise meaning in science. So I figure if we're tossing out sensational interpretations I should add one of my own. As regular readers of this blog know, I believe our reality is a holographic simulation, and you and I are just software running within it. Our creator, or creators, who presumably had bodies like ours, made this simulated universe so they could live forever, in a fashion, because their own reality was about to be annihilated in some sort of cosmic catastrophe. Or maybe we're someone's seventh grade science project. The point is that we only think we are real because that's how we were programmed.

Or if you prefer a less "Superman's exploding planet" version of that idea, from someone with more credibility than me, check out Boltzmann's Brain theory:  http://www.nytimes.com/2008/01/15/science/15brain.html

If we are a software program, we might be constrained, perhaps by rules of the program, to stay within certain parameters of enlightenment. For example, we might be restricted from discovering that our reality is a simulation. And the Large Hadron Collider might be testing the limits of our allowed enlightenment. So you might expect some paradoxical, illogical, frightening thing to happen when knowledge starts to approach the programmed forbidden zone of knowing.

But apparently speculation about our software simulation reality is still allowed by the program as long as you mock me in your comments to prevent the idea from spreading.

During the peak ratings years of The Jerry Springer Show -- an alleged reality show -- a fight would break out among the guests during almost every episode.


It seemed obvious to me that these fights were orchestrated by the producers. What are the odds that a fight would break out during every episode and yet no one would ever get hurt or arrested?

The surprising thing is that everyone I talked to about the show during its glory years believed the fighting was genuine and spontaneous. I found that level of gullibility to be mind boggling.

Likewise, when big name TV magicians perform spectacular tricks on TV, such as making a jet disappear, and the witnesses on the scene act amazed, it's obvious to me that those people are in on the trick, and/or their comments of amazement are taken out of context. The magician's only obligation is to entertain the gullible viewers at home. Paying actors to claim they don't know how the jet disappeared, and filming reactions out of context, is the easiest way to do it.

All of this gets me to Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck. Both of them have been in the news a lot for their outspoken and controversial views. And once again, people don't seem to understand that their jobs are entertainment, nothing more.

I enjoy sampling the content from the far left as well as the far right. When I listen to Limbaugh, I generally have two reactions:
  1. I don't agree with the viewpoint expressed.
  2. This man is an entertainment genius.
Talk show hosts have no legal or ethical obligation to do anything but entertain. And judging by their successes, Limbaugh and Beck are brilliant at their jobs. I find it mind boggling that anyone believes a TV talk host is expressing his own true views.

You could make a case that the things Limbaugh and Beck say influences the gullible masses in ways that are not helpful to society. But that's probably true of every pundit, left or right. It's a price of free speech.

Do you think that Limbaugh and Beck have the same views in private as they spray into the entertainmentsphere?

I just saw this article on the Internet about an economic prediction I made ten years before the recent financial meltdown.


This got me wondering, in jest, if I am eligible to someday win the Nobel Prize for Economics. (Okay, technically it's called the Sveriges Riksbank Prize in Economic Sciences in Memory of Alfred Nobel.) The surprising answer is yes. One only needs to come up with an original and useful contribution in the field of economics. You don't need to do any math.


With that in mind, do you think the confusopoly theory is the simplest explanation of how the recent financial meltdown came to be? Obviously greed and stupidity were also factors, but those influences are well understood and common to all of economics.


Suppose you had a system at work that allowed you to evaluate the performance and effectiveness of your coworkers. You could log on at any time and leave an opinion that would only be viewable by your boss and his bosses.

And imagine that you could be as unprofessional as you liked. If you think your coworker is an obstructionist idiot with fake credentials, you can express your opinion in those words. Management in this hypothetical world wouldn't want anyone diluting strong opinions with business jargon.

The idea would be to weed out employees who do a good job of concealing their treachery, toxicity, and incompetence in front of management. And in some cases it would force managers to do what they had been avoiding, namely getting rid of the bad seeds.

Obviously the system would be abused to some extent. You would have employees trying to settle personal scores, and paranoids falsely accusing coworkers of stealing and lying. But that probably happens just as much without this system. The point of the system is to gather input from more sources than just the crazies who tend to speak up.

You could call it a ratting system instead of a rating system. Would it make the workplace a better or a worse place to be?

Regular readers know that my wife Shelly and I are building a home. We were warned that we would be overwhelmed by all of the decisions. I was ready for this, I thought.

For most of my life, including my school years, I worked two or three jobs at the same time. The exception was when I was getting my MBA at night while working during the day. I thrive on complexity. How hard could it be to design a house? You pick some doorknobs, choose your favorite color for the paint, and off you go.

Allow me to invent a new word to describe my feeling at this moment: Holyjeezamafuginkripes.

We're more involved in the details than most homeowners. That's part of the fun. And it has been a delight so far. But at the same time I have come to understand the true meaning of overwhelmed. To illustrate, take just one category out of several hundred decisions we need to make: paint.

Your standard paints have what is called VOCs, or volatile organic compounds. That means they release their particles into the air forever, even after they are dry. Scientists think that a high level of VOCs is very bad for you. (Yes, you are almost certainly breathing high VOCs in the room you are in right now.)

The good news is that paint companies are now making zero-VOC paint. But you can't easily do color matching with the zero-VOC paints, so you won't get the color you really want, except by luck. It's a crap shoot. And if you want to faux paint a wall, the glaze isn't low VOC. And what about the stain on your cabinets? And what exactly is the level of VOCs that is acceptable, given that different states mandate different maximum levels? And do these zero-VOC paints work just as well? And are the mandated low levels because of the release into the atmosphere during spraying, or do you really need those lowest levels to protect the inhabitants? And who has the answers to those questions? I have asthma, dammit, and I need to know!

Now imagine that you want as many as three colors per room. And each color has to be compatible with the door color, the furniture, the rug, the countertops, the floor, and your daughter's nail polish. And imagine that it is impractical to see all of those elements at the same time in one place before you decide. Oh, and the natural light in any given room completely changes how your paint will look.

But my point, and I do have one, is that I wonder how this concept of being overwhelmed works in a context of negotiations. I can tell you from my own experience than once you have too many choices to make, you start getting flexible fast, just to survive.

So imagine that you have a meeting in which you want to convince someone to do something your way. One good strategy might be to weaken the other person's resolve by overwhelming him with less relevant choices before the important one is presented.

That's what car dealers do. By the time the consumer is done considering all of the many options for a potential car, he is already overwhelmed before negotiating price.

In summary, if you want your business nemesis to agree to one thing, make him consider ten things first. It will seem as if you are generously offering your nemesis control over many choices when in reality you are a manipulating bastard or bastardess.
Men are story tellers. Women are schedulers.

That's the sort of overgeneralization that drives people mad. I suppose that's what attracts me to writing it.

First, let's all agree that there are plenty of exceptions to this or any other generalization. Perhaps you are one of the exceptions. Obviously there are plenty of great female authors and plenty of great male project managers. But that won't stop me from generalizing.

When I find myself in a conversation with a man, he often tells a funny story about something that happened to himself or someone else. Or he asks me a question that elicits a story from me, however brief. Or maybe one of us will tell a joke, which is a form of a story. Maybe one of us will mention a favorite movie we've seen recently, which is a reference to a story. And when men ask questions in conversation, it is generally to better understand the other person's story.

Women, on the other hand, sometimes appear to be telling stories, but they are actually recounting past events in the approximate order in which they happened. Men's stories usually have identifiable beginnings, middles, and often surprising ends. When women describe past events, men are often left wondering why the beginning of the story started a full day before the parts that seem relevant. Women are sharing feelings, and for that you don't need a neat story format. What matters is the sum of the experiences.

I'm not implying that one approach is better than the other. Obviously a neatly organized story is the best way to convey a joke, whereas a description of recent events, in approximate order of occurrence, is a perfectly good way to share an emotion. And sharing emotions is probably more important than jokes. But I wonder if this gender difference is also related to how men and women store information as memories.

For example, I can remember forever any situation that fits into a typical story form. But a woman can remember the dress she was wearing three birthdays ago, presumably because it made her feel a certain way.

Do you organize memories as stories or as emotions?

I assume that most of you have heard about the so-called Ass Bomber. He was a terrorist who tried to kill a Saudi Deputy Interior Minister by putting a bomb up his ass and detonating it when they met. Unfortunately for the terrorist, the bomb was only big enough to kill the Ass Bomber himself.


This raises many interesting questions. At the top of my list: Why did the Ass Bomber think that killing the Deputy Interior Minister was worth shoving a bomb up his own ass? Sure, I could see if it was the Interior Minister himself, but the deputy?

I think Saudi Arabia played this wrong. Instead of telling the state controlled media that the ASSassination attempt failed, they should have reported that the Deputy Interior Minister was dead, and so was everyone else in the building. And they should have said there was no way to stop this sort of brilliant attack. Within weeks, every member of Al Qaeada would have shoved a too-small bomb up his ass and detonated it in a market or mosque. The innocent bystanders would be startled and perhaps a little bit slimed, but otherwise unhurt. Terrorism would have a quick and amusing conclusion.

The other thing I wonder is whether the original Ass Bomber was the victim of a practical joke. I can imagine that conversation:

Ass Bomber: I wish I had an evil scheme to kill someone who is marginally important.

Joker: Maybe you could shove a bomb up your ass and surrender to the authorities.

Ass Bomber: Would that work?

Joker: Absolutely. It's the best idea ever.

Ass Bomber: How would I get a bomb up there? It's a little tight.

Joker: I know a guy they call Large Bruce. I think he can help you out. It might take a few weeks of continuous practice.

Ass Bomber: I don't now if I could do that.

Joker: Because you hate Allah or what?


I hear a lot of chatter about the rich getting richer. That sort of talk is a generalization of course, since obviously there are rich people who get poorer, some go bankrupt, and a few do the full Madoff. But as generalizations go, it's true enough.

I wonder how people would feel if instead of saying "the rich are getting richer" we said "the smart are getting richer." Would it be just as true, as far as generalizations go, and would it make you feel the same when you heard it?

Capitalism rewards hard work, risk taking, luck, and intelligence. But are all of those elements equally important?

Hard work is common to all income levels. I would argue that hard work has the weakest correlation to wealth because it rarely does the trick on its own. You also need intelligence, risk taking, and luck.

Likewise, risk taking generally only works in combination with intelligence, hard work, and luck. In fact, you could argue that risk taking is just a facet of intelligence, especially when it works.

Luck and intelligence can each work alone to produce fortunes. But after the initial fortune is made, only intelligence helps grow it. Luck reverts to the mean. People who win lotteries rarely continue to get richer. But smart people routinely parlay small fortunes into larger ones.

So if we are looking for the best substitute for "the rich are getting richer," I would argue that your best fit is "the smart are getting richer." It's a generalization, of course, with plenty of exceptions. But it seems true enough. The interesting question is whether it has the same emotional impact as "the rich are getting richer."
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