Monday, May 22, 2006

Reading :: Seasons of the Italian Kitchen

Originally posted: Mon, 22 May 2006 23:46:47
The Seasons of the Italian Kitchen
by Diane Darrow, Tom Maresca
Never have I reviewed a cookbook on this blog, but never have I loved a cookbook as much as this one. It's out of print, which is too bad, because it's just a joy to read. Here's the authors discussing the issue of frying in olive oil:
Well-fried food is not greasy or heavy; in fact, properly fried food usually creates a palatial impression of lightness and purity, as if the food's natural flavor has been heightened, not obscured. The olive oil component of the flavor is like the harmony line that makes the melody more interesting. And foods cooked in olive oil are not unhealthy unless that's all you ever eat -- but you could say the same of water. In the Italian diet, fried foods are balanced out by fresh fruits and vegetables, by pasta and rice and wine. Some fat is essential for human nutrition, and olive oil is the best there is. (p.129)
Yes, most of the book is like this. The recipes are arranged by season, then by course (primi, secondo, etc.). Each one -- not each meal, but each recipe in each course -- has extensive and well thought out wine recommendations.

Although the book isn't vegetarian, there are plenty of vegetarian and even some vegan dishes here, and they're all fantastic. When we first came to Austin, I made a meal of capri salad, pasta with uncooked sauce (fresh tomatoes, parsley, onions, olive oil, wine vinegar), zucchini marinated with mint, and I believe granita. Wonderful, and that's not because of the cook -- the recipes are simple enough even for me to make.

If you see this one for sale somewhere, pick it up. Even if you think you hate "Italian food" (or that stuff that goes by the name, covered with horridly processed tomato sauce sweetened with corn syrup). Make the pasta with uncooked sauce (salsa cruda), the fusilli vesuvius, the eggplant parmesan, the zucchini marinated with mint, the capri salad ... And do what I do: buy your olive oil in three-gallon containers. It's worth it!
Blogged with Flock

Update 2011.09.05: Amazon now has this book, new, in paperback!

Reading :: Power to the Edge

Originally posted: Mon, 22 May 2006 23:19:31

Power to the Edge

By David S. Alberts and Richard E. Hayes

Power to the Edge, like The Agile Organization, is an electronically published book that focuses mainly on information-age transformations in warfare. As the subtitle suggests, the authors are concerned with how military organizations will have to adapt as they move from the Industrial Age to the Information Age.

As I've remarked elsewhere, this body of literature is required reading for anyone trying to make sense of the transformations that Donald Rumsfeld is trying to implement, how they have led to a particular type of warfare in Afghanistan and Iraq, and how these transformations have led to worry among senior military leadership. The so-called Generals' Revolt appears to be in large part an outgrowth of resistance to these transformations, using Iraq as an example of how they might be leading the military down the wrong path. That path leads to a smaller military footprint and a heavier reliance on information technologies, but it also leads to less hierarchy and more peer-to-peer interactions, or as Alberts and Hayes call it, "power to the edge":

Power to the edge is about changing the way individuals, organizations, and systems relate to one another and work. Power to the edge involves the empowerment of individuals at the edge of an organization (where the organization interacts with its operating environment to have an impact or effect on that environment) or, in the case of systems, edge devices. Empowerment involves expanding access to information and the elimination of unnecessary constraints. For example, empowerment involves providing access to available information and expertise and the elimination of procedural constraints previously needed to deconflict elements of the force in the absence of quality information. (p.5)

In such an organization, command and control are separated: "commanders become responsible for creating initial conditions that make success more likely" and exercise control in ways that allow for agile self-organization and relative autonomy; they command, but control is assumed by the personnel on the "edge," who are closest to the action (p.5). This sort of arrangement requires "shared situation awareness, congruent command intent, professional competence, and trust" (p.6).

To make their argument, the authors first lead us through a discussion of the different military philosophies found in successful 20th-century military organizations, focusing particularly on the degree of centralization in each (pp.19-26). Next, they describe the characteristics of industrial age command and control, characteristics that are just as relevant to commercial enterprises: decomposition, specialization, hierarchical organizations, optimization, deconfliction, centralized planning, and decentralized execution (Chapter 2). These characterisics, the authors claim, developed systems that were inherently cyclical, a result of the limits of Industrial Age communications technologies (p.49; cf. p.175).

But, the authors argue, Industrial Age assumptions are not adequate for Information Age organizations; the latter should be optimized for interoperability and adaptability, and should allow the organization to better bring its information, assets, and expertise to bear (p.56). "Centralized planning," they say, "is antithetical to agility because it (1) is relatively slow to recognize and respond to changes in the situation, (2) results in ill-informed participants, and (3) places many constraints on behavior" (p.63).

One problem that arises is that the "stovepipes" or hierarchically separate branches of an organization result in "seams" that "create gaps in roles and responsibilities that lead to a lack of accountability for interoperability, information sharing, and collaboration, all of which are necessary for a transformed military" (p.64).

Stovepipes, then, must be gotten rid of, because different branches and units must be interoperable; a "super star" commander is not enough (p.88), so "rather than rely on individual genius, Information Age processes tap collective knowledge and collaboration" (p.89). Furthermore, military organizations must be able to forge "a coalition that will in all likelihood include nonmilitary and/or nonstate actors" (p.103), an assertion that brings to mind Castells' networks or Zuboff and Maxmin's federations as well as the networks described in Arquilla and Ronfeldt.

Such networks, the authors claim, "are inherently more resilient than the hierarchical and stovepipe systems that characterized Industrial Age military organizations. Because there are multiple links available, the loss of a single node or link is absorbed by a robustly networked force" (pp.135-136). In such an organization, "control is not a function of command but an emergent property that is a function of the initial conditions, the environment, and the adversaries. Loyalty is not to a local entity, but to the overall enterprises" (p.217).

This resilience of networks, in fact, is one of the characteristics of an agile organization: robustness, resilience, responsiveness, flexibility, innovation, and adaptation.

Compare this vision of the military to the "Powell Doctrine" used in Gulf War I: win through overwhelming force and numbers. This doctrine is most easily carried out through a massive Industrial Age structure, and despite its strengths, it is not especially agile. (If the US had used the Powell Doctrine in Afghanistan, the war would have probably been far longer and bloodier.)

Alberts and Hayes' book is interesting reading for anyone who wants to know how organizations are adapting, and could adapt, to the Information Age. >

Blogged with Flock

Reading :: The History of Florence

Originally posted: Mon, 22 May 2006 23:34:59

The history of Florence, and other selections

By Niccolo Machiavelli

This version of Machiavelli's great history of Florence is incomplete, including only Books II-IV, VII, and VIII. Nevertheless, it's fascinating and highly entertaining for the most part. When describing a great statesman, Machiavelli sometimes gets caught up in cataloguing the man's best zingers -- Machiavelli did love the insults -- but most of the time he provides a dispassionate account cataloguing both the virtues and the flaws of the actors. We can see many of the lessons from the Prince here in historical form, including concrete illustrations of the shifts in government (republic, aristocracy, dictatorship) and detailed analyses of how these came about in Florence time after time.

These history lessons also remind us that reading The Prince is not enough to understand Machiavelli's political analysis. Of one contemptable Duke, who lost his sovereignty in a revolt, Machiavelli says, "he wanted men's service, not his goodwill, and therefore he preferred to be feared rather than loved" (p.110) -- clarifying the advice he famously delivers in his more popular book. As in The Discourses, his many discussions of conspiracies remind us that "in these affairs the number small enough to keep the secret is not sufficient to put it into effect" (p.44) and that long-term conspiracies are always discovered (p.95). He amusingly notes that Florence's government prosecuted fewer wars once a law was passed applying taxes to nobles as well as the popliani. and in passing, he notes that one Pope "had shown himself a wolf and not a shepherd" (p.279). Later, the Pope signed a peace agreement, and died five days later; Machiavelli suggests that it was because "the sorrow of having to make peace killed him" (p.302).

Machiavelli also has lessons for project managers. Here's a story about Niccolo Soderini, who became Gonfalioniere of Justice and manages to screw things up:

Messer Tommaso and Niccolo Soderini were brothers; Niccolo was the more spirited and enterprising of the two, and Tommaso the more sagacious. The latter being a great friend of Piero de? Medici, and knowing at the same time his brother?s disposition, and that he had no other object but the liberty of the city and to establish the government firmly and without injustice to any one, advised him to have no ballotings made, so that the election purses might be filled with the names of citizens devoted to their free institutions; which being done, he would see the government established and confirmed without disturbance or harm to any one. Niccolo readily adopted his brother?s advice, and thus wasted the period of his magistracy in vain efforts, which his friends the conspirators allowed him to do from jealousy, being unwilling that the reform of the government should be effected through the authority of Niccolo, and in the belief that they would yet be in time under another Gonfaloniere. When Niccolo?s magistracy came to an end, it became apparent that he had begun many things, but accomplished none; and thus he left his office with much less honor than he had entered upon it. (pp.233-234).

You gotta manage your projects, Niccolo.

All in all, this book is not just interesting but insightful and easy to read. I had worried that it would be a long slog, but by the end I was disappointed there wasn't more. Maybe I'll pick up the complete version soon.


Blogged with Flock