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America's 55-hour work weeks ruin workers' lives and don't produce extra value for employers


Sara Robinson's written an excellent piece on the productivity losses associated with extra-long work-weeks, something that has been established management theory since the time of Ford, but which few employers embrace today. Americans are working longer hours than they have in decades, sacrificing their health, happiness and family lives, and all the data suggests that those extra hours are wasted -- resulting in hourly productivity losses that offsets the additional hours worked. Everybody loses.

It’s a heresy now (good luck convincing your boss of what I’m about to say), but every hour you work over 40 hours a week is making you less effective and productive over both the short and the long haul. And it may sound weird, but it’s true: the single easiest, fastest thing your company can do to boost its output and profits — starting right now, today — is to get everybody off the 55-hour-a-week treadmill, and back onto a 40-hour footing...

By 1914, emboldened by a dozen years of in-house research, Henry Ford famously took the radical step of doubling his workers’ pay, and cut shifts in Ford plants from nine hours to eight. The National Association of Manufacturers criticized him bitterly for this — though many of his competitors climbed on board in the next few years when they saw how Ford’s business boomed as a result. In 1937, the 40-hour week was enshrined nationwide as part of the New Deal. By that point, there were a solid five decades of industrial research that proved, beyond a doubt, that if you wanted to keep your workers bright, healthy, productive, safe and efficient over a sustained stretch of time, you kept them to no more than 40 hours a week and eight hours a day.

Evan Robinson, a software engineer with a long interest in programmer productivity (full disclosure: our shared last name is not a coincidence) summarized this history in a white paper he wrote for the International Game Developers’ Association in 2005. The original paper contains a wealth of links to studies conducted by businesses, universities, industry associations and the military that supported early-20th-century leaders as they embraced the short week. “Throughout the ’30s, ’40s and ’50s, these studies were apparently conducted by the hundreds,” writes Robinson; “and by the 1960s, the benefits of the 40-hour week were accepted almost beyond question in corporate America. In 1962, the Chamber of Commerce even published a pamphlet extolling the productivity gains of reduced hours.”

What these studies showed, over and over, was that industrial workers have eight good, reliable hours a day in them. On average, you get no more widgets out of a 10-hour day than you do out of an eight-hour day. Likewise, the overall output for the work week will be exactly the same at the end of six days as it would be after five days. So paying hourly workers to stick around once they’ve put in their weekly 40 is basically nothing more than a stupid and abusive way to burn up profits. Let ‘em go home, rest up and come back on Monday. It’s better for everybody.

Yes, you can squeeze out some extra productivity with sporadic overtime pushes in the busy season (though the returns diminish -- 80-hour weeks aren't twice as productive as 40-hour ones), but if you turn "sporadic pushes" into business as usual, you're just paying for the same work to take place over more hours while destroying your workers' lives. You may not care about the latter -- not if you've got five more applicants lined up to take the jobs of the workers who drop at their desks -- but even so, why pay more for less?

Bring back the 40-hour work week (via Beth Pratt)

(Image: Luigi Antonini speaks with a foot-sore picketer during the Dressmakers' strike for overtime pay, as supporters look on., a Creative Commons Attribution (2.0) image from kheelcenter's photostream)

Officer Vader suit for your riot-control needs


If you're feeling alone and vulnerable in a big, troubled world, Amazon has this "Damascus FX1 FlexForce Modular Hard Shell Full Body Crowd Control System," which will provide you with the physical protection and the emotional distance necessary to beat, gas, and detain your fellow human beings. All for a mere $545.95!

The FX-1 FlexForce Modular Hard Shell Crowd Control System is the ultimate high-threat level riot control, domestic disturbance, and cell extraction suit. The FlexForce design provides substantial protection from blunt force trauma without sacrificing the fit or comfort. The suit is lightweight and ranks highest in easy to put on or take off in a moments notice. The front and back hard shell panels have a modular flex design allowing for all shapes and sizes to fit comfortably with out sacrificing much needed mobility. The forearm guard offers a much more comfortable elbow portion of the pad, which allows more flexibility. The knee/shin guard has a non-slip surface, which keeps you planted in position. The FX-1 is a considerably improved fitting system compared to competitor models and is worn by forces worldwide.Upper Body and Shoulder Protection.Hard shell front and back panels feature a unique Damascus 3-panel flex design for optimum movement, fit and comfort.

I love that it's a "system" and not a "Hallowe'en costume for terrified control-freaks and mall-ninjas."

Damascus FX1 FlexForce Modular Hard Shell Full Body Crowd Control System, Medium (via Red Ferret)

Dueling Banjos on Tesla coils

What better use for a pair of musical Tesla coils than FONentertainment's rousing 2010 chorous of "Dueling Banjos?"

Dueling Banjos on musical Tesla Coils (via Geekologie)

Kickstarter: False Profit

Pundit Award winning writer and film maker Dan Abrams joins forces with Science Channel’s Josh Zepps and Second City legend Jeff Michalski to film a mockumentary on the causes of the 2008 economic collapse.

Abrams and Zepps are writing with Michalski directing. If ever there was a high percentage chance for funny, this would be it. While I don’t know Abrams and Zepps personally, Jeff Michalski is an amazing director, comedian and friend.

If it looks good to you, please contribute.

And as the world crumbles, everyone is asking one question: “Who’s to blame?” Eugene Kramer was a simple Iowa farm boy who brought his folksy wisdom to Wall Street at an entry-level trading job in 2004. His sunny moral principles propelled him to the top — and unwittingly inspired his fellow bankers to unleash a global economic catastrophe. And that was just the beginning... From the credit crash to the auto bailout, from the Euro crisis to Occupy Wall Street, Eugene Kramer caused it all. And now it’s up to him to fix it.

False Profit is a hilarious satire told in the sober style of an investigative documentary, through talking-head interviews, mocked-up archival footage, re-enactments, and the visceral live action of a day-in-the-life documentary crew trailing this elusive young titan through the corridors of power. Despite its authoritative tone, it’s a gleefully absurdist farce in the mode of Arrested Development and Best in Show.

Kickstart False Profit

Library staircase delightfully transformed into live interactive game board

Four flights of seventy-two stairs were transformed into a giant game board using 1,200 feet of wire and 48 Internet-connected tin cans decorated with green and gold helium balloons at DIY: Physical Computing at Play. These were our targets.

Read the rest

Goldman Sachs Exec Director quits, indicts former employer in stinging NYT editorial

Greg Smith, a 12 year veteran of Goldman Sachs who held the rank of executive director until today, has tendered his resignation and penned a NYT op-ed explaining his disillusionment with the firm. Smith describes a "toxic," "destructive" company that puts its own bottom line ahead of its customers' best interests, the result of a "decline in the firm's moral fiber" under CEO Lloyd C. Blankfein and president Gary D. Cohn. In modern Goldman Sachs, customers are described internally as "muppets," and are pushed to trade in complex products that make big commissions for Goldman, even when they earn less for the clients compared to simpler products.

It makes me ill how callously people talk about ripping their clients off. Over the last 12 months I have seen five different managing directors refer to their own clients as “muppets,” sometimes over internal e-mail. Even after the S.E.C., Fabulous Fab, Abacus, God’s work, Carl Levin, Vampire Squids? No humility? I mean, come on. Integrity? It is eroding. I don’t know of any illegal behavior, but will people push the envelope and pitch lucrative and complicated products to clients even if they are not the simplest investments or the ones most directly aligned with the client’s goals? Absolutely. Every day, in fact.

It astounds me how little senior management gets a basic truth: If clients don’t trust you they will eventually stop doing business with you. It doesn’t matter how smart you are.

These days, the most common question I get from junior analysts about derivatives is, “How much money did we make off the client?” It bothers me every time I hear it, because it is a clear reflection of what they are observing from their leaders about the way they should behave. Now project 10 years into the future: You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to figure out that the junior analyst sitting quietly in the corner of the room hearing about “muppets,” “ripping eyeballs out” and “getting paid” doesn’t exactly turn into a model citizen.

Why I Am Leaving Goldman Sachs (via MeFi)

Folding tables, desks and carts with a tiny footprint

On Core77, Hipstomp profiles Oasis Concepts, a furniture maker that produces flat-folding compact furniture. I'm semi-obsessed with tiny-footprint furniture at the moment, having confronted the reality that we're not likely to get a bigger flat any time soon. I keep thinking that if we could just put in some ambitious convertible Murphy-style furniture in each room, we could get 1.5 rooms' worth of utility from each.

Oasis Concepts' Folding Tables

What Do Robots Do All Day? A kids' book from the future


BERG's Matt Jones hazards a guess at the future of work in this hypothetical future Richard Scarry book-cover.

Richard Scarry’s "What Do Robots Do All Day?"

Scene-for-scene comparison of Sarah Palin and Julianne Moore


[Video Link] Via Biotv: "An interesting scene-for-scene comparison of actual media appearances of Sarah Palin and Julianne Moore reenacting them in HBO's Game Change." Pretty amazing acting by Julianne Moore.

Sarah Palin / Julianne Moore

The Root Children


Amy Crehore says, "There is something about children who live underground and play with big ants and other bugs that appeals to me." And who in their right mind would disagree with her?

Illustrations by Sibylle Von Olfers for this 1906 book can be found on 50 Watts. Read the Story of the Root Children at the Digital Children's Library.

People that live underground

Christopher Walken reads Where the Wild Things Are

Here's Christopher Walken reading and narrating Where the Wild Things Are, a treat to rival Samuel Jackson's dramatic interpretation of Go the Fuck to Sleep.

Where the Wild Things Are (as read by Christopher Walken)

Story of the first phone phreak

 Images Joybubbles

Joe Engressia Jr. was the father of phone phreaking. In the 1950s, the blind 7-year-old realized that his high-pitched whistle could control the phone system. Over the years, he learned the electronic language of clicks and tones and tapped into a network of phone freaks around the country, most of whom had previously phreaked in solitude. Radiolab just aired a fantastic profile of Engressia, who died in 2007. The radio documentary starts with his abusive childhood, moves through the birth of the phreaking underground, and ends with Engressia's reinvention of himself as perpetual child named Joybubbles, host of a telephone story line for kids. A compelling, moving, and inspirational story. "Long Distance" (Radiolab)

Image from a forthcoming documentary film, "Joybubbles."

Lux's vibrobot


[Video Link] David and his son Lux built this Vibrobot, featured in Make: Projects. It's the best one I've come across!

Wild skyscraper designs awarded

Zhi Zheng, Hongchuan Zhao and Dongbai Song from China won Evolo magazine's 2012 Skyscraper design competition. My favorite, however, is the runner-up (above) which crawls up the side of the Yunnan mountains. Designed by Yiteng Shen, Nanjue Wang, Ji Xia and Zihan Wang, it has the advantage of being neither outrageously science fictional nor horrible: consider the third place winner, a concept design for kilometer-high landfill silos.

Late night whipped cream supplies delivery service



On Monday, I was shooting some video in San Francisco with my friend Lessley Anderson of CHOW and she spotted this card for a late night whipped cream supplies delivery service. This seems fishy to me -- the only person who would need to make this much whipped cream late at night is Herb Alpert.