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CostCo, Space Travel and Japanese

CostCo is the Space Shuttle of shopping destinations. It’s supposed to save you time and money, but in the end, you just end up wasting larger amounts of time and cash than you ever thought possible, and you’re left sitting at home justifying why you’re force-feeding yourself some disgusting, low-quality cheese you spent 10,000 yen on, and whose only redeeming quality was its per-pound cost. That, and 14 people die.

The Space Shuttle was supposed to save money. Reusable, not disposable. Hundreds of flights per year. Payload costs down at four figures (?) USD per pound. In the end however, fewer than 140 missions were flown across the entire working lifetime of the entire fleet. And the design lived up to the grave predictions of engineers who had warned of a approximately 2% probability of total vehicle loss — a fatal accident with no survivors. Disposable Saturn V rockets would have been safer and cheaper. Russian Soyuz rockets are safer and cheaper.

That first Hubble repair mission was awesome sauce. But the facts are in. The Space Shuttle didn’t simply fail to do and be just about everything it was supposed to do and be — it’s also the deadliest spacecraft in history.

Not only government bureaucracies make dumb decisions and then double down on them. We all have personal space shuttle programs. We are all the governments and governors of our own lives. We are stubborn; we are slow to effect meaningful change; we are prone to pageantry and gesture over substance; we waste money; we reward bad behaviors and ignore or even punish good ones; we overthink and overplan; we overdo busywork to tire ourselves out and hide from ourselves and others the fact that we’re not doing work of value.

But we don’t have to be this way. Next time something promises to save you time and money and energy — but is also really complex — watch out, be wary: because you may just be about to receive a massive consignment of magic beans that’ll change your life completely, but not for the better: those beans could get you involved in a war of attrition with Englishman-eating giants for a while.

The Shuttle program didn’t fail because of a lack of smarts or good intentions (or even bad intentions). It failed because it was a collection of bad strategy masquerading as good.

Pay the price. The real price. The retail price. Be selective, not exhaustive. It’s cheaper in the end. Pay for your Japanese with time spent — don’t try to get out of spending the time, instead, work harder at making the time enjoyable. Buy real Japanese books, not textbooks. Make use of free content, but don’t ignore the filtering power of paying for good content that you truly love. Don’t try to kill 54 birds with one stone. Don’t try to learn 17 languages at once. Play some Japanese now. Not later. Now. Something Japanese on YouTube. Now. Don’t create a bureaucracy around your Japanese: remove all friction. Don’t draw up a curriculum like you’re the New York City School District (zero hyperbole here — people actually do this kinda crap). One click. Boom. Done. Repeat.

Don’t be post-1972 NASA.

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