February 2009


…if they interviewed them the way they interview developers:

1. What’s  ROI stand for?  Have you ever used this concept?

2. What is an MBO?  Give an example.

3. Name three ways a PERT chart differs from a Gantt chart.

4. If you had to explain it to a junior manager, how would you describe what “venture capital” does?

5. Define “delegation”.  How does it differ from “assignment”?

6. What are all the ways a company could raise capital?

The point here isn’t that the questions are easy, though many are.  It’s that they aren’t tests of managerial skill; they’re pop quizzes on management theory.  Surely what you’re really interested in isn’t whether someone can define the buzzwords the same way the books do; it’s what they’ve done and whether it worked.

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Here’s a fascinating article by Michael Lewis in the New York Times Magazine, surely one of the only times I’ve ever linked to something about sports.

http://www.nytimes.com/2009/02/15/magazine/15Battier-t.html?_r=2&ref=magazine&pagewanted=all

It focusses on Shane Battier of the Houston Rockets, a player his own front office admits is “a marginal NBA athlete”… who nonetheless has an uncanny ability to make his team win.  Both teams he’s played for started out losing and ended up in multiple playoff seasons.  Battier doesn’t score well by any conventional metric… but he’s an outlier on several unconventional metrics.  Something about his play makes his team play better and his opponents worse. 

It’s an offshoot of the statistical methods that began in baseball and are now being applied to other sports, but it’s also a spotlight on what makes teams gel, why it’s important to ask exactly what we’re measuring, and why we need more than superstars.

How do I stop sucking as an Infected?

–Brainsless

Left 4 Dead is a team game, so the first question is, are you and your fellow monsters playing well together?  You should be talking, telling each other what you’re doing, coordinating attacks, noting weaknesses. 

Use the maps to your advantage.  Areas like the basement in the No Mercy subway, or the cornfield in the Blood Harvest finale, are inherently confusing for the Survivors.  Places where they have to drop down to another level and can’t get back up again are excellent places to jump the stragglers. 

Height is your friend– all the attacks work better if you can attack from above.

Hang out in front of a witch or an alarmed car, in hopes that they’ll fire at you and set off the fun.

Boomer: The key class, as he produces the disorientation that makes other attacks devastating.  Tell your teammates where you’ll be attacking.  Always spawn at the last possible moment so they can’t pick you off from afar.  Try to spew on everyone– then go melee the ones you missed, in hopes that they’ll kill you, drenching themselves. 

Forest areas are difficult, but there are generally rocks or little cabins you can spawn behind; you just have to be a little more patient.

Even a four-survivor boom will do little damage if the horde can’t get at them– e.g.  if they’re ensconced in a subway car, or hiding in a room with just one exit.   (On the other hand, it slows them down and keeps them busy, so it’s not worthless.)

Hunter: Basic strategy: wait for a boom, preferably attacking one of the non-boomed survivors.  You get a bonus if you can pounce from a height.

Another basic strategy: Hunter or Smoker attacks survivor A; another hunter pounces whoever comes to rescue the victim.

Pay dirt comes when the survivors start to drift apart, even a little bit.  Get the isolated ones; this works even better if your teammates attack the rest of the survivors to keep them away.

If you’re shoved off a victim, you can often get in a melee attack or two before you’re killed.

Smoker: I’m worst at this myself, but it can be a game-changer, since it can break up a cohesive knot of survivors.  Try to smoke from a height, and always pull backwards (i.e., away from the direction they want to go).

Milling zombies will break your tongue, so it’s hard to smoke in the middle of a horde attack.

Single best smoker attack: pull someone from the roof in No Mercy 3.  (Either the person dies, or someone has to go rescue them, hopefully to be pounced by a hunter.)  Awesomest smoker attack: same level, pull them from the little room near the gas station, through the window, back into the alley they started from.

Tank: Avoid fire (which will kill you quickly) and open spaces (where the survivors can pour lead into you).  Hit trees, cars, and forklifts (fortunately, the game will aim these for you). 

Don’t obsess over any one survivor… hit whoever’s closest.  Use the throw attack if no one is very close; keep aiming throughout the throw. 

Tanks will normally scatter the survivors, making them excellent targets for the other infected.  The latters should attack from behind since the survivors should be paying attention to Mr. Tank.

The director wants you to keep attacking.  Don’t worry about that.  If the survivors set an area on fire, it’s better to give up control to a teammate rather than plunge in.

I’ve come across a claim by libertarians, ranging from Ayn Rand and Ron Paul to a slew of personal acquaintances, that monopolies and oligopolies are unsustainable without economic aid from the government.  Is there any truth to this claim?  What are the counter-examples?

—Ian

Whenever someone makes a claim like that, the burden of proof is on them.  Ask for three examples. (You can’t do this with an author, of course; but if they don’t provide examples, you don’t have to take their claim very seriously.)

See this old rant (and Josephson’s book) for some examples of Robber Baron monopolies.  What government aid benefitted the steel trust or Rockefeller’s oil refinery monopoly?  Is Microsoft’s near-monopoly on operating systems, or Google’s on search engines, subsidized by government?

The railroads are a special case, both supporting and undermining the libertarian position.  Many were frank giveaways of federal land.  But the railroad companies also blackmailed local governments and simply took over state governments.  Predatory tycoons will simply do as they please and bilk consumers and lesser companies in the absence of a strong government.