relatively little wireline-to-wireless number porting

Relatively few U.S. telephone numbers have been ported from a wireline telephone service provider to a wireless telephone service provider. In the first half of 2009,  22.7% of U.S. households had only wireless (mobile) telephones.  Another 14.7% of households received all or almost all calls on wireless phones. The U.S. has about 114 million households.  Nonetheless, only 3.8 million wireline number portings (about 5% of total wireline number portings) have been from a wireline to a wireless service provider since 2003. Persons switching to using mobile phones as their primary phones aren’t typically doing so with prior wireline numbers.  Most wireline number ports are from one wireline provider to another wireline provider.

What explains this porting pattern?  Part of the explanation is that young persons are much more heavily represented among wireless-only and wireless-mostly households.  Young persons who have always used their mobile phone as their primary phone would not have reason to port a wireline number to a wireless phone. Other persons who had used a wireline phone as a primary phone and switched to using a wireless phone as their primary phone may not have wanted to bring their prior calling network and prior number knowledge distribution to their wireless phone. Mobile phone numbers, especially in the U.S., tend to be disseminated less than wireline numbers.  Not porting a wireline number to a wireless phone allows a wireless user to reset others’ knowledge of her or his telephone number.

Data: See Table 14 in FCC, Numbering Resource Utilization in the United States.

COB-52: sloths unjustly maligned

Like bureaucrats, sloths are often mocked and defamed. Such actions merely display ignorance.  In fact, sloths are highly capable animals.

Sloths have a reputation for sleeping a lot.  Confined in zoos, sloths sleep on average 16 hours a day.  You would too if you lived and worked in a zoo.

Important new research documents that sloths not confined in a building or other structure sleep only 9.63 hours per day on average.  Sleeping thus appears to be a response to unnatural and difficult circumstances. The implications for bureaucrats confined in tiny offices are obvious.

A sloth is more active than a python.  Pythons sleep on average 18 hours a day.  Yet pythons have an important computer programming language named after them.   Why isn’t there an important computer programming language called Sloth?  Without a doubt, prejudice and discrimination are part of the answer.

The physical capabilities of sloths are grossly under-appreciated.  Sloths spend most of their lives clinging to tree branches.  The hair on their bodies grows upward, so that when sloths hang upside-down, water runs smoothly off their backs.  Two varieties of algae attach to a sloth’s fur and contribute to its ability to blend into its surroundings.  A sloth grips branches so securely that even when shot dead, its dead body will remain clinging to the branch.

sloths deserve your love

Sloths do not move quickly.  Their top speed is about 2 km/h. But more than offsetting sloths’ slowness are their urinary and rectal capabilities:

two-toed sloths naturally retain both urine and feces, urinating and defecating at intervals that range from 3.4 to 4.6 days. … Their bladders are large, and sloths urinate up to 500 milliliters (almost 17 ounces) of urine at a time. Their rectal pouch is also large and the animals expel up to 235 milliliters (almost 8 ounces) of feces at a time. Depending on when in the excretion cycle a sloth is weighed, urine and feces may account for up to 30 percent of the animal’s body weight, which averages about 6 kilograms (about 13 pounds).

We believe that, on average, urinary and rectal capacities are inversely proportionally to frequency and speed of movement among middle-aged humans.  In other words, if a class of humans are noted for slow movement, that indicates their superior urinary and rectal capabilities.

Other bureaucratic issues this month:

In extremely exciting news, the Dawn of a New Day occurred on Oct 28, 2010.  More specifically, Ray Ozzie, Microsoft’s Chief Software Architect, issued on that day a new memo. The memo begins incisively by reviewing the contents of a memo that Ozzie wrote five years ago.  Like all memos, this memo merits detailed study.  The most important point in the memo is this:

The one irrefutable truth is that in any large organization, any transformation that is to ‘stick’ must emerge from within. … the power and responsibility to truly effect transformation exists in no small part at the edge.

On other words, transformation depends mainly not on an organization’s leaders, but on its legions of bureaucrats.  Ozzie’s insight points to a bright future for Microsoft.

Jennifer, a caver and bat conservationist, blames bureaucrats for closing caves in response to the spread of the bat-killing White Nose Syndrome (WNS). But the problem isn’t bureaucrats; it’s lack of good science.  A blue-ribbon committee should be formed to plan a study of the causes of WNS.

You probably have heard the popular maxim, “Don’t do today what you can put off until tomorrow.” A Russian immigrant told me that’s not what he learned. The maxim he learned was “Don’t put off until tomorrow what you can in general never do.” That’s a superior maxim.  Identifying things that don’t have to be done promotes efficiency. Often leaders declare, “We have done a lot (come a long way), but much more remains to be done.”  The best way to do more is to determine first what doesn’t have to be done.  Meetings can help you do that.

That’s all for this month’s Carnival of Bureaucrats. Enjoy previous bureaucratic carnivals here. Nominations of posts to be considered for inclusion in next month’s carnival should be submitted using Form 376: Application for Bureaucratic Recognition.

a testament to content business difficulties

The Shahnameh, an epic that Ferdowsi wrote a millennium ago in Iran, describes eternal content business difficulties. In the concluding section, Ferdowsi laments:

Nobles and great men wrote down what I had written without paying me: I watched them from a distance, as if I were a hired servant of theirs.  I had nothing from them but their congratulations; my gall bladder was ready to burst with their congratulations!  Their purses of hoarded coins remained closed, and my bright heart grew weary at their stinginess.

In the language of traditional content owners today, nobles and great men stole Ferdowsi content.  They apparently provided attribution to Ferdowsi and even congratulated him. But Ferdowsi wanted material goods for his content.

At least one user of Ferdowsi’s content followed terms that Ferdowsi sought.  Ferdowsi described the exchange:

that honorable man Hosayn Qotayb never asked for my works for nothing.  I received food and clothing , silver and gold from him, and it was he who gave me the will to continue.  I never had to worry about paying taxes and was able to wrap myself in my quilt in comfort….[1]

Ferdowsi continued the exchange with a direct reference,  “that honorable man Hosayn Qotayb.”  Over time, the Shahnameh became a popular, influential work.  It also came to be celebrated as a literary masterpiece.  Elites have invested heavily in the Shahnameh. Being named in it puts a person among kings.  That’s a status that usually cannot be bought for any price.  But neither Ferdowsi nor Qotayb knew at the time of the Shahnameh’s completion the actual value of this name-brand placement.

Ferdowsi, a word producer, extolled the value of words.  He concluded his account of Sekandar (Alexander the Great) thus:

[Alexander the Great was buried], and what remains of him now is the words we say about him.  He killed thirty-six kings, but look how much of the world remained in his grasp when he died.  He founded ten prosperous cities, and those cities are now reed beds.  He sought things that no man has ever sought, and what remains of him within the circle of the horizon is words, nothing more.  Words are the better portion, since they do not decay as an old building decays in the snow and rain.

Ferdowsi is exaggerating.  Some non-verbal effects of Alexander the Great endure.  Words in turn dissipate in various ways.[2]  Brains forget and die.  Books are thrown out; paper yellows and crumbles.  Web pages go 404.  The textual record of the Shahnameh itself has serious weaknesses.  A complete text of the Shahnameh is not well-attested back to Ferdowsi’s hand.

A huge number of words are continuously produced.  Communication is the preeminent sign of human life.  Reducing human life to a business is a treacherous endeavor.

Hellenistic artisan with wax tablets


[1] The three Shahnameh quotations in this post are from Ferdawsi, trans. Dick Davis (2007), Shahnameh: the Persian book of kings (London: Penguin) pp. 853-4, 528.  Shahnama and Firdawsi are alternate transliterations of Shahnameh and Ferdawsi, respectively.  The Shahnameh includes frequent panegyric to Mahmud of Ghazneh.  Mahmud ruled the region in which Ferdowsi lived from 997 to 1010, the final 13 years in which Ferdawsi wrote the Shahnameh.  Ferdowsi’s literary service to Mahmud did not bring Ferdowsi a large royal payment.  Ferdowsi reportedly died embittered by his meager compensation.

[2] Ferdowsi constructed a verbal history of Sekandar (Alexander the Great) that differs significantly from other verbal sources. In the Shahnameh, Sekandar is the son of the Iranian king Darab.


A Hellenistic artisan, perhaps a sculptor, with wax tablets in his belt.  Wax tablets served as early notepads.  Sculpture ca. mid-1’st century BGC, held in the Metropolitan Museum of Art (1972.11.1).

illustrating the Shahnama

A millennium ago, the Persian poet Firdawsi completed his epic poem the Shahnama. Artists instantiated this lengthy verbal text in illustrated books.  Lavishly illustrated pages from Shahnamas produced for wealthy patrons from the fourteenth to sixteenth centuries are displayed in the exhibition Shahnama: 1000 Years of the Persian Book of Kings, now at the Sackler Gallery in Washington, DC.[1]

The extent of visual investments in these Shahnama texts is extraordinary.  The earliest pages in the Sackler exhibition are from the Great Mongol Shahnama.  It probably contained about 280 large folios with about 190 highly detailed, painted illustrations.  Although commonly called the Great Mongol Shahnama, it was produced in the waning years of the Mongol empire.[2]  The Shahnama of Shah Tahmasp, produced in a thriving Persian empire early in the sixteenth century, consisted of 769 large folios with gold-flecked margins, prized calligraphy, and 258 exquisitely painted illustrations.[3] The paintings from both these books, and from other books on display, delight at the closest scrutiny.

While these Shahnamas are extraordinary, pictorial storytelling has attracted large investments across cultures and time. The interaction of words and images occurs at early stages of sensory processing.  Writing and pictorial narratives have used common conventions from the time of the earliest writing.  Today, time spent watching television far exceeds time spent reading.  Adding images to words adds considerable value to a narrative.

The Bier of Iskandar, an illustration from the Great Mongol Shahnama and included in the Sackler Gallery exhibition, shows ways in which an image can work with a narrative. Firdawsi’s Shahnama text describes intense grief at the death of Iskandar (Alexander the Great).  His troops, “a hundred thousand children, men, and women of Alexandria,” Greek sages, his mother, his wife, and nobles all grieve in extravagant ways.  Firdawsi, however, doesn’t include chaotic, non-verbal, emotional expressions. His verse maintains a relatively formal register.[4]

Bier of Iskandar, from the Great Mongol Shahnama

The Bier of Iskandar illustration highlights chaotic grieving.  The physical setting is highly regular: a central lamp, a square frame, symmetrical lamp niches on the sides, four tall candles marking the corners of the bier.  Within this regular setting crowd irregularly individualized figures who gesture in markedly different ways.  In the foreground, two women have their veils pushed down.  One pulls out her hair, while the other has her hands crossed palms downward on the top of her hand.  Perhaps this represents her heaping dust on her head.  Iskandar’s mother leans across the side of the coffin, with the back of her veiled head appearing to the viewer.  Aristotle, the philosopher, with his head bent downward into a handkerchief, appropriately seeks to conceal his grief.[5]  A Greek sage next to him looks serenely skyward.  Some men hold their hands across their chests; others stretch their hands forward, and others, skyward.  The composition places and juxtaposes these gestures in ways that make the differences quickly apparent.  These choices of visual art bring out the emotional chaos of grief contained within Firdawsi’s verbal art.

Isfandiyar’s Funeral Procession, another illustration from the Great Mongol Shahnama, has less personal differentiation than does the Bier of Iskandar.  At both Iskandar and Isfandiyar’s deaths, Firdawsi describes some common conventions of grief: weeping, wailing, pulling hair, heaping dust on head, unveiling women’s heads, cutting horses’ tails, and reversing saddles.  Both illustrations display the disorder that these actions indicate. Firdawsi’s narratives of Isfandiyar and Iskandar differ, however, in extent of internal tension.  The Isfandiyar’s narrative emphasizes unity that should have been between Isfandiyar and his father (Isfandiyar’s father sent Isfandiyar to his death) and Isfandiyar and Rostam (Rostam killed Isfandiyar).  The Iskandar narrative, in contrast, points to tensions between the Persians and the Greeks, between Persian wisdom and Greek sages, and between Iskandar’s mother and his wife.  The Isfandiyar funeral illustration shows a tumultuous sea of persons surrounding Isfandiyar’s coffin.  The disorderly persons surrounding Iskandar’s coffin are more individually articulated and contrasted.

The Sackler Gallery’s exhibition occupies only two small room on the first floor of the gallery. The displayed works are book pages that cannot be fully appreciated if they are viewed as wall paintings.  But like the Shahnama text does for world history, these illustrated pages encompass a huge span of visual art.  Visit Shahnama: 1000 Years of the Persian Book of Kings at the Sackler Gallery through April 17, 2011.  Until supplies run out, you can leave with a free exhibition brochure that, appropriately, has large pages and lavish illustrations.

*  *  *  *  *


[1] Firdawsi declared that he finished his work “in the month of Sepandormoz, on the day of Ard, and four hundred years have passed since the Hejira of the Prophet.”  Sepandormoz and Ard are a month and a day in the Zoroastrian calendar, while the Hejira is the focal date in the Muslim calendar.  Firdawsi’s finishing date corresponds to 1010 AD (Anno Domini) among persons oriented to preserving the cultural history of the Mediterranean, and 1010 CE (Common Era) in the currently dominant dating system in the West.  A very small party of progressive, culturally sensitive scholars refuses to conform to either and uses 1010 GC (Gregorian Calendar) instead.  The quote is from Firdawsī, trans. Dick Davis (2007), Shahnameh: the Persian book of kings (London: Penguin) p. 854.

[2] Scholars have attributed the Great Mongol Shahnama to royal artists in Tabriz, Iran, in the 1330s, under Il-Khanid ruler Abu Sa’id or Arpa Ke’un.  It is sometimes called the DeMotte Shahnama.  George Joseph Demotte was an art dealer who dismembered the book and sold individual paintings from it.

[3]  Artists under royal patronage produced the Shahnama of Shah Tahmasp in Tabriz, Iran, circa 1525.  It is sometimes called the Houghton Shahnama.  Arthur Houghton was an art dealer who bought it in 1959 and dismembered it in 1972.  The Hamzanama of Akbar is the only illustrated text that plausible exceeds the Shahnama of Shah Tahmasp in magnitude of material and artistic investment.

[4] In contrast, ancient Greek texts, e.g. Prometheus Bound, explicitly represent non-verbal shrieks and cries.

[5] See, e.g., Plato, Phaedo, 117c.  More generally, Cairns, Douglas, “Weeping and Veiling: Grief, Display, and Concealment in Ancient Greek Culture” in T. Fögen (ed.), Tears and Crying in Greco-Roman Antiquity (Berlin: De Gruyter, 2009), 37-57.

Image credit:

The Bier of Iskandar (Alexander the Great), from a Shahnama (Book of Kings) by Firdowsi (d. 1020); Tabriz, Iran; Il-Khanid period, circa 1330-1336; opaque watercolor, ink, and gold on paper; Freer Gallery of Art Purchase F1938.3.