Two-factor Management

Two versions of one of many two-factor theories.

As part of my Master’s Degree I wrote a thesis on some research I did. You can download it if you want. It’s about Situational Leadership, which is an interesting old-school model for management and one connected to many similar models that have shared origins in time and concept. I wrote up a basic explanation of Situational Leadership over at this page, if you’re interested. I’d like to write up what I learned in an essay format in some way, and this is the beginning of that effort.

These two-factor theories of management from which Situational Leadership emerged have lost some luster in recent years as models such as Transformational Leadership have come into favor, but I find them to still be useful. I’m also interested in learning and thinking a little bit more about how the various models relate to one another. I’m going to try to write about that too, and this post is also the home for that writing I intend to do.

Standup Routine

Sometimes people tell me I’m funny. Not everyone thinks that, but some people think I’m really funny. Sometimes those people tell me I should be a comedian. I try to tell them I can’t be a comedian because I don’t have any material: I just say funny shit when it occurs to me or in response to something that happens. Well here’s an attempt to make up some material. Picture this as a standup routine:

“Man, the world these days. Things are changing so fast. I’m 40 years old, I can’t keep up. Who’s dating out there? Man, it’s rough isn’t it? Everyone is using these apps. Dating apps. Very high tech. Very competitive. I can’t compete with everyone on the internet, I don’t stack up well. I don’t even have much of a chance if I’m already the only guy talking to you. You’ve gotta be smarter than everyone else. Gotta beat the system.

So I’m trying to get a leg up. I watch all these ladies, using their phones. Using their dating apps. Everything is on a phone these days. Everyone’s using their phones all the time. Half of them have cracked screens too, right? How many of you have a cracked screen on your phone right now? So I got a place, I put up one of those signs “we fixed cracked phones here”. Only when you walk in, the lights are real dim. It’s just me, just sitting there. “Can I buy you a drink?”…gotta outsmart the system.

Okay, okay, that’s not actually true. I’m not dating. I’m married. I’m wearing a wedding band. A lot of ladies probably noticed that already as I told that last joke. How many guys noticed I’m wearing a wedding band? Come on guys, get it together. Just because you’re not evaluating me as a potential life-partner doesn’t mean you shouldn’t show a little interest. Pay attention to what’s going on around you. So really I don’t give a shit if you’re dating. Using apps. That’s not hard. That’s not shit. Being married. That’s fucking hard. If you’re not married you don’t know shit. You don’t know how hard it is to tell your wife your darkest secrets. To share yourself. To be truly vulnerable to someone who knows you. Really knows you. Someone who could hurt you. Someone you neeeed. You don’t know what it’s like. You don’t know what its like. You don’t know what its like to tell someone you’ve secretly ran up 5,000 dollars in debt by sneaking out to Taco Bell late at night.

Hey, but it’s not all bad. Being married. It’s good to have someone to talk to. Someone who can understand you. My wife’s sick of listening to me talk about myself though. I’m seeing a therapist instead. It’s great, having someone to listen to you. I just need to talk about my stuff, you know? I just need someone to listen to me. Therapists are expensive though. I can’t afford that. I think I was getting a great deal: 160 bucks for 45 minutes. I couldn’t afford that though. I was like, can we do 10 minutes? He wouldn’t budge. Now I don’t have a therapist. So I got a place, I put a sign out front, it says “Open mic, free comedy” and you go in, the lights are all dim and it’s just me, standing there. Talking about myself.

Thanks everyone, you’ve been great.”

Thinking About Free-Market Capitalism

These days if I read the news or any analysis about what’s happening in the world, I’m struck by what a miracle it is we humans haven’t burned it all to the ground already. This whole thing could have been charred dust by now, easily. It’s hard to run a mass society apparently and there are some real jerks and dumbasses out there; many of them in charge and the rest complicit or colluding unconsciously. There must be something pretty resilient about people to explain why society hasn’t already collapsed in my view. My friend @noelc painted the picture this way: society seems to be under the effects of an accelerant with technology’s progression and it wouldn’t be hard to imagine the car careening into the ditch at these speeds. Maybe the system actually works pretty well since it hasn’t collapsed entirely yet? I find this notion immediately contrary to my typical point-of-view, but I’m compelled to look into it.

It’s easy to point fingers at problems of course, and frankly quite enjoyable. I love doing that. It’s even better when you really know what you’re talking about though, and I want to make sure I know my own opinions on the economic principles that theoretically operate much of this system. This is an essay about me going beyond finding fault and trying to figure out how I feel about the economic system that runs the Western world, as I understand it. Others know a lot more about this than me, but I can’t rely on the experts to tell me how I feel.

My starting place is not very “market-friendly”. I want all kinds of leftist big-government spending programs and I’m pretty disgusted by the lack of care society shows for the underprivileged. I’m also writing from a US perspective, so I hope its better other places and I know its worse in still more locations. Social services like universal single-payer health care seem like no-brainers to me, free or way-cheaper college education, make-work programs; especially if for public transit or public housing infrastructure or space travel; universal basic income sounds like it could be worth trying—stuff like this gets me excited about what we could do collectively rather than what I see actually happening. So what is a bleeding heart liberal like me supposed to do with the ideas of capitalism that I see value in, that I think are working at making some good changes and notable contributions to modernity? Typically these notions are painted as opposing one another. On the one side: fans of the free-market and on the other side, socialists.

I’ve probably already lost some people by admitting I see some value in capitalism. For me it’s true though. I look around and see tons of evidence that free-market capitalism really works; technology these days is amazing, cities are growing like weeds and building amazing skyscrapers left and right, and it costs almost nothing to saturate your house with wireless internet, install a tv in the back of your headrest, or order an item delivered that was manufactured a couple days ago on the other side of Earth. I’ve done video chats with people literally on the other side of the earth for years as well. Things are pretty amazing and companies are working really hard to out-do each other in many innovative ways. Allegedly the profit motive inspires this work.

From my perspective, our economic system has done all these things; but it clearly hasn’t done everything I value either, like protect the damn environment or reduce inequality. What’s up with this system that can be so effective in some areas and so ineffective in others?

This essay is inspired by a voice memo I left myself back in 2010. Let me see if I can work through three main points. Before I start, let me clarify what I mean by free-market capitalism. Essentially I think about it as the system that encourages individuals and companies to seek profits and says that the forces of competition and demand will serve to optimize this system’s outputs for the best mutual benefit. Somewhere in there ideas like total knowledge allowing all participants to act rationally, low barriers to entry, and other concepts I’ll get into are included. I guess I need to brush up on my basic knowledge of economics, but that’s what’s coming to mind.

Anyhow, so that’s the system, but why does it work to make cool things I can buy and huge profitable companies but not to protect the environment and care for society’s overall health? Here are three problems I can think of:

1. It’s Based on Questionable Assumptions

It’s certainly fine for models and theories to generalize significantly to try to make a cleaner sense out of a messy reality. Those underlying generalizations need to be inspected up close though to see if they are accurate or create problems with the overarching theory. Here are a couple of those assumptions as I understand them:

Low Barriers to Entry for Competitors

Competition is a key factor for why Free Market Capitalism should theoretically create equitable outcomes in my understanding. The presence of competition prevents sellers from overcharging buyers in the marketplace because in theory a competitor would be willing to step in and undercut the exploitative pricer and all the buyers would go over to this new competitor. Then the original seller could lower their prices or just lose all business.

Fine, but what if it is not possible for a competitor to enter the marketplace? Things are pretty complex these days. Anyone could probably get their hands on bulk wheat to sell, but I think it’s a little more complicated to acquire integrated circuit boards or create a global supply chain to manufacture self-driving taxicabs. I understand that each level of these complex structures should also be subject to market forces and that a huge global marketplace should create sufficient competition at all levels in theory, but I suspect there are enough edge cases to make it as likely that the theory doesn’t occur as does. When Toshiba invented a new 1.8” hard drive around the turn of the century, Apple bought literally all of the production to create the iPod. It took years for anyone to figure out this product was generating significant profits, but with all the production locked up they couldn’t do anything about it anyhow. There are now a few private companies trying to enter the space rocket business; conveniently they’re all funded by billionaires. That’ll never quite be an easy market for competitors to enter which means in many cases even the basic principle of competition cannot be presumed in the market.

Full Knowledge and Transparency

After the existence of competition, transparency and access to information is another basic concept in market economics. Consumers will be able to find out what competition is available. The example that was taught to me in microeconomics back in the late 90s was the seeming paradox of advertising expenses assisting a low margin supplier and helping reduce overall prices through increased competition. The industry in question was the prescription glasses market, where new entrants were advertising to let people know that they didn’t have to buy expensive glasses right from their optometrist’s office, they could just take their prescription to LensCrafters and choose from a wider selection of cheaper glasses. The surprise in this example gets at the fault of the theory–we presume advertising is designed to obfuscate the truth and manipulate the behavior of consumers because it often is. This challenges the notion that consumers can enter the marketplace with clear eyes and make rational decisions based on access to competitive information. Instead we wander around with our emotions manipulated in a unlikely attempt to separate ad-copy from truth and discover occluded information only through dutiful and time-consuming research. Mattress makers famously brand products exclusively for different distributors so no direct comparison is possible. So even if competitive products could be made despite high barriers to entry, the mass of consumers might not be able to tell what the hell was available to them anyhow. That’s a pretty big ding in the alleged justice possible from the free market.

2. The Drive to Externalize

Here’s a bigger problem. I actually suspect that a market might be able to serve all the needs of humans pretty well if only it was possible to do calculus on all the myriad factors and variables and make sure they were accounted for. Big factories wouldn’t pollute for instance if they had to pay the clean up cost; they’d have an incentive to find other ways. Sounds good. Over here in reality though, if you can conveniently leave a cost out of the equation by externalizing it, you win. It’s easier and better for you. Everyone would take that chance unless they had some strong moral compulsion to do something differently. Sometimes shame can be that motivator, but too often these shortcuts can be done in secret so no one finds out.

Healthcare is another huge one as I see it. We don’t have to create a world where living a sane life is possible, none of us have that responsibility. Mental health, family conflict, and more are the same. Individuals can bear the cost to that and the economic system counts the costs of servicing these problems as a net gain. The actual undesirability of these issues is not assigned a value. It seems to me like either the government solves these issues, the government mandates organizations solve these issues, or they just don’t get solved. Too much of the latter is happening. Voluntary benefits seem to only work for people whom companies have to compete to employ.

3. The Profit Motive

In this whole deal, the profit motive is the part that is just too sacrosanct for the good of the theory of free-market capitalism as far as I’m concerned. It just encourages efforts to undermine absolutely every other important aspect that makes the theory theoretically a functional system. The opportunity to make a profit is what drives one to fulfill a demand and deliver value, but it also inspires deceptive advertising, paying off corrupt regulators, eliminating competitors, dumping toxic chemicals into the water supply, and any other manner of ways to undercut what would be good for other actors, the larger system, and the world at large.

I think that’s the main concerns I’ve been carrying for 8 or 9 years. Is that all obvious? What counteracts these things?

If I had more time I would’ve liked to write this with 60% fewer words at the beginning and more examples at the end. I don’t though.

Post-Modern Architecture was Born the Same Day as Modernism

Modernist Architecture. Glass. Steel. It’s pure and strong and minimal and clean. It’s dope. Le Corbusier. Mies. Neimeyer. Crown Hall. Philip Johnson’s Glass House. I mean, “Holy Shit!” right? Look at this house here; it’s so pure and perfect and honest with itself and its materials and space. This is it man, Modern Architecture!

Philip Johnson's Glass House at dusk
Philip Johnson’s Glass House. Look at this beauty! Image Credit: James Vaughan

As a Chicagoan, I have to talk about Mies Van der Rohe. “Less is more” describes Modernist Architecture as well as can be done in brief. Modernism in Architecture is just enough to be what it needs to be, and no more. Mies’ work can take us through my whole point here too.

Mies’ Crown Hall from 1956 on the IIT campus on Chicago’s south side is a sublime and perfect example of Modernist Architecture. It is black steel and glass. It boldly shows what steel can be as its two huge structural beams on the roof span the open floor and bear all the load to the edges to create an uninterrupted space beneath. It’s epic and iconically done.

Crown Hall Entrance. Image Credit: Daniel X. O’Neil

But wait, what’s that building next to Crown Hall? On this college campus there are many buildings of course. None reach the level of Crown Hall, but the one just to the left (to the West as I’m picturing Crown Hall’s entrace from the South if memory serves (there’s another entry from the north), it could be Galvin Library?) is a combination of brick and some steel. That’s okay, right? Brick might not be as distinctly modern as steel, but it still is an honorable material.

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Crown Hall’s massive roof beam meeting a vertical beam where it can transfer the load it bears to the ground.

 

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Crown Hall’s neighbor’s roof beam, just sitting there doing nothing like a left behind pack of shingles.

 

Nope! Upon closer inspection this is just a brick building with some steel beams dropped on the roof to match the aesthetic of Crown Hall. They don’t connect to anything, they don’t enable an open floor plan. They just look cool. They are post-modern now, this is not Modernism. It might look like the same style, but it is a compromised gesture toward appearances. Steel beams not for their function, but for decoration! Antithetical to the defining characteristics I outlined above.

Let’s turn to Denise Scott-Brown and Robert Venturi to get to what I mean by post-modernism in architecture. Briefly, these guys and the students from their class, in the legendary book Learning from Las Vegas, posit a thesis that architecture is not about the object but about what the object communicates. There are either ducks or decorated sheds amongst buildings. Ones who’s shape is some kind of novelty itself or ones who slap decoration on their exterior. I should elaborate, but this is what I’m referring to when I say post-modern architecture.

Well first let me just show two more examples to finish the Mies story. Besides Crown Hall, Mies’ poster-child for Modernist Architecture in Chicago is 860-880 Lake Shore Drive. Looks like modernism to me. Awesome buildings. Apparently some of the units are for sale. Pretty decent prices for lake views in one of the world’s great cities in an architecturally monstrously significant building.

Mies’ 860 and 880 Lake Shore Drive apartment buildings. Image Credit: Scutter

But look closely at these and other Chicago office buildings that Mies designed such as the IBM building and you will see more of the same: I-beams running vertically without connecting to anything! Just stuck on the side like fake shutters. The venerable I-beam, massive load-bearing key to the possibility of Modernism in architecture itself, reduced to some façade decor. Less is more my ass, this is more is more!

I-beams on the side of 880 Lake Shore Drive. Image Credit: dgphilli

I imagine these beams might still provide some structural value, but I need an engineer to explain to me what they can really do without anchoring into something at the bottom. Please chime in engineers!

In conclusion, I have sadly come to realize that the pure concept of Modernist Architecture as a celebration of materials and the space they can create in their purity is a notion that almost immediately undercut itself. Modernism in architecture appears not to be a significant period that was later followed by Post-Modernism some years or decades down the line; instead they coexisted right from the beginning.

For my personal favorite Modernist piece of architecture, be sure to read my piece on Oscar Neimeyer’s Casa de Canoas.

Replacement Byword Icon

Byword Replacement Icon

Byword has become one of my favorite apps to write in, even just as a scratchpad sometimes, from amongst many, many Markdown text editors. It works great in OS X 10.10 Yosemite too, but I find the icon clashes in my Dock with the new style of system icons. I get the typewriter key idea, but it looks a little archaic with its real-world style texture and depth now that Apple has switched to a more expressive and simplified style.

I looked around online and found this replacement by Natty Coleman and tried that out for a while. It’s a little too dark though, the icon is larger than other circular OS X icons, and I wasn’t sure about the switch to a sans-serif B either. Unfortunately I pasted Natty’s replacement over the original icon, so I wasn’t able to use it as a resource later. I thought I’d be able to find it by examining the package, but no luck in the resources folder. I just remembered that I think you can “delete” the icon in the Get Info window to revert to the original so I’ll have to give that a try. There is also another one on Dribbble, but it didn’t work for me for a couple reasons.

Anyhow I made this replacement icon for my own use. I used the new style from iTunes/iBooks/Mac App Store/ etc. and tried to keep it as close to the original as possible. I kept the serifed B and used Baskerville Old Face, which is my best fast guess at what font the original icon’s B was. Probably not correct exactly, but hard to tell from just one character. The bars get a little thin though, so if I do a round two I will try to find a better match. Like I said, I didn’t keep the original icon for reference so I was basing it on the icon visible in the App Store search results, which is pretty small.

I inverted the gradient to keep with the style Apple uses, and lightened it up a bit to make a drop shadow from the B visible. I used Pixelmator (who’s icon is also looking a little incongruous. Correction, this icon was updated with the latest version, my Dock just hadn’t updated yet.) with this OS X icon template, and then produced an icon using Img2icns for the final result. I didn’t spend the time to really do everything properly at every size though, as I don’t really have the tools for that. The only way I’ve done that before was with Photoshop and IconBuilder and I don’t have Photoshop currently. Plus that would take a lot longer and I wanted something quick.

Original, Natty’s, Mine.

Here’s the actual icon file if you want to use it as well:

Byword Replacement Icon.icns

UPDATE: I’ve changed the font and made the B larger. It’s still not the right font, but the bar thickness is better. I think the B might be too big now, but I’m still working on it.

Byword Icon 3.icns

Byword Replacement Icon version 3UPDATE 2: Small tweaks to the gradient. Also started playing around with a version for OmniFocus, not that all icons in OS X should be circles now!

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UPDATE 3: A few months back the official actual icon of Byword was updated to a new modern look. The App developer went with an even more minimal look than what I was playing with and I think it looks great:

The new updated official App icon for Byword.

1984 World’s Fair Illustration

world's fair entrance drawingThis is from a (late) birthday gift I made for my sister. Don’t say anything, she hasn’t seen it yet. Drawn in 53’s Paper app for iPad and printed in a custom Moleskin which I’ve also yet to see. Apparently this is one of the entrances to the World’s Fair that New Orleans hosted in 1984, 30 years ago. My sister turned 30, so that’s the big idea there. Drawn from images found online.

 

Oscar Niemeyer and His Casa das Canoas

Oscar Niemeyer Sketch

This is a repost to this blog from other web locations, this is an essay I originally wrote in college circa 2000 while studying architecture and have updated some over the years:

Brazilian architect Oscar Niemeyer brought the International Style to South America, transforming and elaborating upon the movement in the process. Known primarily for his work designing the major civic buildings in Brazil’s massive public works project of the late 50s: the creation of the new capital city of Brasilia, Niemeyer has had the opportunity over his life to establish an architectural language for an entire country, and influence the course of the world’s architecture in the process.

Niemeyer’s version of Modernism shares the essential qualities of the eminent Le Corbusier and Mies, yet goes beyond the principles they established. The minimal steel-based structural systems, glass curtain walls, and clean lines that define the Modern and International Styles are a part of Niemeyer’s work, but additional qualities of cultural relevance and expression are also present.

The house that Niemeyer built for himself in 1953—now known as the Casa das Canoas—is an excellent example of Freeform Modernism, and an expression that could only exist in Brazil. While the thin, flat roof slab and floor-to-ceiling glass walls are certainly central elements of many classic Modernist buildings, particularly Mies’s Farnsworth House and Philip Johnson’s Glass House, the curvilinear outlines in Niemeyer’s residence are uniquely expressive of its Brazilian heritage. The Colonial Baroque architecture that dominated Brazil before is very curvaceous, as is it’s local artwork. Moreover; the eroded hills, winding rivers and shorelines, and rolling landscape of Brazil itself are a clear inspiration for the forms in Niemeyer’s work. As the architect himself states:

“Right angles created by man, hard and inflexible, do not attract me. What draws my attention are free, sensual curves- curves which I encounter in the mountains of my own country, in the sinuosity of its rivers, in the clouds in the sky and the waves of the sea. The whole universe is made of curves.”

In this way, Niemeyer has found a way to imbue a strict, universal, and impersonal architectural language with meaning, significance, and local cultural relevancy.

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A sketch Niemeyer made of his Casa das Canoas residencemyplantopfloorbig
My rendition of the Casa das Canoas ground floor plan, with roof overhang

Le Corbusier’s Villa Savoye from 1928-31 is surely the most paradigmatic example of early Modernism. While it is clearly still a formative work of the at-the-time-new language, I find that it’s elements lack the significance of Niemeyer’s forms. While thin piloties are used in both houses, the curvilinear forms that Corb uses are taken from industrial forms, and not artistic or geographical inspiration. The drawback of this is that Le Corbusier’s forms are not tied to any one place or people, but only to technology. This style of building is only associated today with France because it was built there originally, not because it inherently contains an expression of the region’s culture.

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Le Corbusier’s Villa Savoye. Photo credit to Flickr user End User.

Likewise, Mies van der Rohe’s use of steel and glass in the Farnsworth House of 1945-51 is surely an exemplary expression of a mature Modernism, but not a very humanistic gesture. The ultimately minimal and clean refinement of space in this building is quite sublime, but the neutrality and generic quality of the angular forms does not engage the environment (social or geographic) that the building is situated in. In this case, the architect has chosen to relate to the site by intruding upon it as little as possible. However, the few necessary components that do exist are made so devoid of feature that they do not appear to exist in the same reality as the site.

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Mies van der Rohe’s Farnsworth House. Photo credit to Peter Guthrie.

Niemeyer’s house takes a similar approach to interacting with the environment, yet with a crucial difference. Where the Farnsworth House becomes as neutral and generic as possible to aviod conflict with the environment, the Niemeyer House’s minimal remaining elements take the forms of the surroundings. This immitation of the surrounding forms helps the house blend more effectively into the environment. Niemeyer actually went so far integrating his house with nature as to allow a gigantic rock to penetrate the house’s membrane.

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My illustration of the Casa das Canoas and its site
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My rendition of the lower floor plan of the Casa das Canoas

Niemeyer’s House is nestled on a hill near Rio de Janeiro, surrounded by lush forests. A large concrete slab provides the tableu for his building, as well as hiding away a small lower floor. The curvy shapes of the roof slab match the shapes of the hill and the organic vegetation that surrounds the house. The roof is supported on thin piloties, negating the need for supporting walls. With this freedom, Niemeyer was able to open up almost the entire top floor to the natural surroundings with glass walls. Two slight cresent wall pieces provide retreat from the jungle if desired. The experience of being inside this house would be indulgent, to say the least. All of the comforts of an indoor setting are added to the exotic experience of sitting in the forest. As William Curtis phrases it: Niemeyer’s Modernism is “sensitized to the tropical way of life.”

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Oscar Niemeyer’s Casa das Canoas. Photo Credit to Marina Moreira.
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My rendition of an elevation cross-section of the Casa das Canoas.
 
 
 
Article and drawings by Jeff Hottinger, originally circa 2000 with minor edits in 2011.

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The Thing About Microsoft

Daring Fireball linked and commented on a couple Microsoft pieces recently, and while I largely agree with them I feel a bit of dog-piling going on. Awkwardly and surprisingly, I find myself wanting to defend Microsoft. This won’t go over well.

It’s likely that this recent bout of comparisons was spawned by the news that Apple’s Market Capitalization had surpassed Microsoft’s recently. That’s a tremendous vote of confidence in Apple’s potential to make money in the future, but the whims of speculative financial gambling don’t necessarily prove everything. Steve Jobs was wise enough to downplay the meaning of this, and technology journalists should be wary of giving it too much significance as well.

The elephant in the room that none of these pieces mention is Microsoft’s consistent ability to make ungodly amounts of money. The $15 Billion that Microsoft is banking every year should not be so quickly dismissed. I would probably argue even more strongly that Microsoft has lost it’s way, can’t innovate, and is structured to stay that way- but they are still making a lot of money. If they did get some better leadership, if they did significantly restructure, all that money could make big things possible.

I don’t think it will happen, but they’re a long way from even declining much less failing.

Microsoft’s Net Income versus Apple’s over the last 10 years via Wolfram Alpha.

Maybe Money Isn’t That Bad

The updated $100 bill design isn’t as bad as some of the shit-talkers are making it out to be. Or, if it is bad I think the criticism is coming at it from the wrong angle at least.

I’ll elaborate on my argument another day, but here is some source material first:

Concisely, my opinion is that American Cash is still pretty badly designed overall, but that it has been making great big positive strides recently and that this criticism is too broad and badly out of context.