Sunday, July 6, 2008


Another book that I read recently is Richard Florida's The Rise of the Creative Class. His thesis is that human creativity is the ultimate economic resource, and people who make their living primarily through exercising their creativity are becoming the dominant class in America and other economically advanced countries. He offers lots of data, charts, and statistics. He profiles various parts of the country, ranking them by creativity, tolerance, and technology.

One of the things that Florida sites as important in building a first-class creative city is creating a vibrant street-life, filled with cafes, clubs, galleries, etc. Seattle, my home for nearly twenty years now, ranks #3 on his "Creativity" index. Recently the mayor of Seattle proposed regulatory changes to make it easier to get a license for a sidewalk cafe. Apparently Seattle does understand some of the things that really matter for building a first class creative economy.

The other piece of the book that particularly caught my eye was when he talked about the differences between companies that truly understand how to get the best from creative workers and old-style companies. Old style companies, he says, put the senior management in big corner offices away from everyone else and put low-ranking workers at or near the central parts of the office. New-style companies put open spaces in the central part of the office, with managers near the open spaces.

This reminded me of some of the companies that I've worked at over the years. As a software engineer I've worked at some companies that were extremely successful, that clearly showed they were able to get the best out of their workers. Those companies (F5 Networks, Microsoft) followed that model of open spaces for people to congregate near the center of the building, and keeping even senior pretty management in offices that were just like everyone else's.

By contrast, one company that I worked at recently had their engineers crammed into tiny spaces while the executives had very large offices that were set off in the corner, away from everyone else. I remember looking at the offices of the CEO and the COO and being offended at the size of their offices, especially when they were cramming 6 programming managers into a conference room because there wasn't any cubical space left.

Saturday, July 5, 2008


I just finished reading the book Crazy: A Father's Search Through America's Mental Health Madness, by Pete Earley. It chronicles emergence of mental illness (bi-polar) in Earley's son and his travails trying to get treatment and stay out of the justice system. Interwoven with his son's story are the stories of four mentally ill people whom Earley connects with through the Miami/Dade County Jail system, which gave him wide-ranging access.

The book was disturbing on many levels, but it got to me on a personal level as I thought about my kids. The recurring motif throughout the book is that it's extremely difficult to get appropriate treatment, especially for those who need it the most. Civil-rights laws have given mentally ill patients an unquestioned right to refuse treatment, regardless of their level of competence. At the same time, the state hospitals that used to be available to provide treatment (even if it wasn't good treatment), have largely been shut down. The community mental-health centers that were supposed to replace them largely failed to appear.

The ten-year-old has shown some signs of both mood and thought disorders. This spring we had to make changes to his medications because he was hearing voices telling him to hurt people. The prospect of him being both autistic and mentally ill, and me not being able to ensure that he takes his medication, is terrifying.

The seven-year-old is almost certainly going to have to live in some sort of assisted-living setting. For him to live independently will require a rate of improvement that verges on miraculous. And we know an awful lot of children like him in his age cohort. There isn't going to be anywhere to put them all once we parents are no longer able to care for them. In order to pay for his long-term care, we'll need to leave him a multi-million dollar inheritance. Right now that seems unlikely.

I hope our country wakes up from it's Republican-induced slumber and remembers that as a society we have obligations to all of our citizens, not just the rich ones. Otherwise I don't know what will happen to our children.