Paul Graham’s latest essay “Cities and ambitions” touches upon the topic of the way a city can influence a person’s ambition. The post is US-centric, but there are quite a few interesting points in it.
No matter how determined you are, it’s hard not to be influenced by the people around you. It’s not so much that you do whatever a city expects of you, but that you get discouraged when no one around you cares about the same things you do.
Does anyone who wants to do great work have to live in a great city? No; all great cities inspire some sort of ambition, but they aren’t the only places that do. For some kinds of work, all you need is a handful of talented colleagues.
What cities provide is an audience, and a funnel for peers. These aren’t so critical in something like math or physics, where no audience matters except your peers, and judging ability is sufficiently straightforward that hiring and admissions committees can do it reliably.
Some people know at 16 what sort of work they’re going to do, but in most ambitious kids, ambition seems precede anything specific to be ambitious about. They know they want to do something great. They just haven’t decided yet whether they’re going to be a rock star or a brain surgeon. There’s nothing wrong with that. But it means if you have this most common type of ambition, you’ll probably have to figure out where to live by trial and error. You’ll probably have to find the city where you feel at home to know what sort of ambition you have.
I was not able to entirely appreciate the points made regarding the various cities, having never visited any of them. However, I can draw some parallels with the Indian cities in which I have lived, mostly from a personal point of view rather than a professional one. I was born in Bangalore and spent the first 12 years of my life there. This was of course before the IT related growth, and the Bangalore of today is a lot more crowded and busy.
My next 10 years were in Chennai, one of the 4 Indian metropolitan cities. Chennai is a relatively serious and conservative city (my friends used to complain every time rock concerts bypassed Chennai and went to Bangalore). My last 3 years have been in Kolkata, my native place and another metro, and the lifestyle is quite relaxed. The weather of a city seems to have a considerable impact on the attitudes of its citizens (something my mother mentions quite often).
So, what quirks have you noticed about your city?
I was thinking about compiling my list for the compatibility status of extensions for Firefox 3, but it looks like the folks at lifehacker have already found a couple of sites that do the same:
Here’s 20 add-ons that are Firefox 3-compatible, and seven that aren’t yet.
Compatible ones (as on 28/5/2008 ) include Adblock plus, flashgot, StumbleUpon, Mouse Gestures among others, while some like Tab Mix Plus and Firebug are not compatible yet. There are some extensions missing from the lists though, like Greasemonkey and del.icio.us, so here’s my table for their status:
* – these extensions work using the extensions.checkCompatibility=false hack
One of the things I have noticed is that incompatible extensions that use the password manager in Firefox do not work properly even with the hack. This is likely due to the change in the password management system in Firefox 3.
Update: I thought such a list would make a good addition to wikipedia, and I have added a section on extension compatibility to the List of Firefox extensions page. I’ve added the some of the extensions listed above for the time being. Hope others add to it :).
Update (18/6/08): Updated compatibility status for Greasemonkey and Gears. Added Tab Mix Plus status.
Update (20/6/08): Updated compatibility status for MR Tech.
I came across a humorous post from thedailywtf.com on an “innovative” way to measure productivity through SVN check-ins, which of course met with expected results, with some employees increasing their productivity by over 600%. It also led to the development of a nice little reusable asset that could be used to increase productivity:
Still, it irked Milo that he wasn’t reaching his full productivity potential. He was wasting a lot of time writing code; time that should be spent checking code in….
With his script, dubbed “PHLEGM” (Programmer’s Helper for Literally Engaging in General Machination, named by one of his colleagues), he could stretch what would usually be one checkin to 20-30 commits. It’s evolved like an open source project with his fellow team members adding new features.
The post also led me to an old Joel post on productivity related to Amazon’s attempt to measure customer service productivity based on number of calls logged:
“Thank you for calling Amazon.com, may I help you?” Then — Click! You’re cut off. That’s annoying. You just waited 10 minutes to get through to a human and you mysteriously got disconnected right away.
Or is it mysterious? According to Mike Daisey, Amazon rated their customer service representatives based on the number of calls taken per hour. The best way to get your performance rating up was to hang up on customers, thus increasing the number of calls you can take every hour.
Joel’s also been quite critical of productivity measurement and incentive based systems at work before. However, I can’t think of a better alternative to the usual rating systems used in companies, especially large ones with tens of thousands of employees. Can you?