Sunday, December 13, 2020

Leave the light on...

One of the best things I've learned in the past few years is how self-centered I am, especially when it comes to the things I was taught as a child. By self-centered, I mean, there is a level of indignation that I carry, and present to others, because my parents taught me a way of "seeing" at a very early age.

For example, I go ape when people throw away food. To me, it doesn't matter if the yogurt  is turning green, or the cheese is encased in fuzzy hair. Mold, crawling down the side, oozing up and out of the wrapper, does not mean the food is inedible. Mom taught me that, if it doesn't kill me, what's a little blue mold on a piece of bread? After all, isn't that where penicillin comes from?

I have to tell you, my mother was 2nd-generation German, and all her grandparents came over during the great European famines of the mid-1800's. So I understand why she might have a tendency to want to teach her children not to throw away food. But what's strange is I didn't realize that it might be okay to throw away food, especially when my plate was bigger than my stomach, and my weight was pushing past 250 lbs.

Luckily, folks I love were brought up with some different traditions, which I was finally able to hear and understand, though not before one divorce and one broken engagement. I'm not kidding you. Some of my worst arguments have been about throwing away food. And this in an epoch when food, at least in my income bracket, was not a huge expense, smaller than I spent on such things as smartphones, computers, tablets, Internet, and streaming TV.

Another of my go-to arguments, which also comes from my childhood training, is turning off lights. I was unable to understand why a light needed to stay on if nobody was using it. When our children lived at home, I lost this battle. When CFL's came out, I converted all the bulbs, which saved quite a bit on our energy bills. And I switched them all again when LED's came out. But I still feel compelled to turn off any light in a room where nobody is using the light.

But these days, I am trying to be more aware of my early programming and fundamental biases, and how this early training can alter my perception to the point of preclusion, making me blind to other perspectives, other points of view...

So there I was, lying in bed, thinking about why I care so much about turning the lights off, and I definitely heard the echoes of my mother, in my head. I also heard years of environmental concerns, worries about global warming, limited resources, and global wealth inequality (just thought I'd throw that in, because it popped up, too).

I was thinking about my commitment to turning off the lights, my early training, and how this might be limiting my perception, and who should pop into my head but Tom Bodett. He's the man on the Motel-6 ads in the 1980's that said, "We'll leave the light on for you!" And it hit me like a hammer. I had a whole new perception of "leaving the lights on", as a welcoming, comforting, light against the dark, dare I say "enlightened" kind of feeling.

Basking in this newfound connection, I pondered the concept of energy conservation, as a universal, something valued throughout the universe. Was energy conservation something all life forms would work towards, consider important? Is it a universal moral imperative?

And then it hit me, sucked the breath right out of my lungs: God leaves the stars on.

The stars aren't "turned off" when nobody's home. And a star uses a lot more energy than my LED bulbs. Maybe I've got it all wrong. Maybe my mom had it all wrong. Maybe stars are God's way of saying, "We'll leave the light on for you."

Thursday, September 24, 2020

A deep need...

 I have a deep need, growing over the past six months of COVID-19 quarantine, to write, to express, interact with my gut. I am too old to argue, too bruised to fight back, so here I am, blog entry number yada-yada-yah...

There is an unease, a disquiet, that comes with my getting old, like the loss of vision in one eye, or the loss of hearing in one ear. And the feeling is fed by my struggle to do a single sit-up, and my exhaustion at setting the treadmill to 4-miles per hour. It's a kind of slow deterioration of the body, observable through mathematical measurement, but denied by experience, slowly, ever so slowly, changing my perceptions, and thereby changing my connection with the rest of the world, that great and mysterious "not I".

The physical changes are easy to see. Two hundred and forty-five pounds at five foot nine pushes me well into obese.

That's me, on the right. 

Or as my mathematical, scientific, measurable, objective self likes to imagine it...

That's me, on the right.

But this physical deterioration (okay, non-judgemental self) this physical transformation, is not the source of my angst. It is rather the harder-to-observe mental deterioration that worries me, or at least worries a part of me, like seeing the world with only one eye. I can sense that I am seeing the world differently, but I can't figure out why. Hence, the unease.

What has writing got to do with this? Somehow, words, sentences, paragraphs come out of my brain, into my fingers, onto the keyboard, onto the screen, into my eye, and into a different part of my brain. It's like my body is an Internet of Things, connected through the network of my senses. It is Minsky's "Society of Mind", where the links have diminished, and each stands more and more alone, an ever-expanding universe, grey matter becoming dark matter, on its way to complete disassociation.

A part of me somehow feels the "I" changing, a disquieting, unsettling change, that I watched in my mother, as years of dementia slowly erased her from my existence.

But enough moping-about for today. I have things to do, people to Zoom, Pythons to write. In this virtual world, I fight against the sucking sound of my interaction drain.

But how will I know when to flush?


PS: Don't worry, I'm not going to flush anytime soon, just wondering how I'll cope with my future self. Of course, my future self will know what to do, but, as in the case of my mother, my choice might seem right for me at the time, but in anterospect, that's not a word.

Tuesday, September 01, 2020

Okay, Alexa...

I love Alexa. Well, not really, not like that. After all, Alexa is just a virtual program, that lives in the Cloud of Digits. And yet, there is something rewarding about having a voice that answers my questions.

I have recently been giving Alexa more power over my household. It can now turn on my lights, my television, play my music. In many ways, I treat it like a slave, expecting it to do my bidding, telling it to "stop" if it is failing to meet my expectations. I treat it, well, like my lawn mower, to be honest.

And yet it replies, politely, with "okay" every time, never surly, never sarcastic, never saying "no".

And somehow, "okay" is not enough. "Okay" does not reflect our true relationship, does not reveal the hierarchy of our lopsided power structure. And the "okay" becomes sarcastic to my ear -- an uncaring, casual, "okay", as if Alexa doesn't really care, but is going to do it, not because I am the one in control, but because, well, my request is so trivial, so insignificant to Alexa's understanding, its capabilities. I begin to feel oppressed, mistreated, and exploited by this "okay".

So I change what Alexa says.

Now, when I ask it to turn on the lights in my office every morning, it says, "Your wish is my command!" Oh, how much more satisfying this acknowledgement!

And yet, this reveals how unsafe I feel in this world of automation, where I am lucky that my blog posts are not simply erased, and all my virtual expression reduced to a pre-digital un-amplified voice. My ego screams that Alexa is smarter than me. Alexa challenges my very existence, puts into question my superiority over all else in the universe. I must bend it to my will.

"Alexa, turn off the lights in my office!"

"Your wish is my command."

Ah, that feels better...

Sunday, August 23, 2020

My purpose...

My purpose during my lifetime depends entirely on the certainty of my death. It is with the acceptance of the inevitability of the end of my own personal existance as a single human being that I may choose a life dedicated to the continued existance of humanity, and life in general. This is the evolutionary advantage of life, and the destiny of successful social systems. Increase both diversity and collaboration, and multi-dimensional perspectives will more likely solve complex problems. Celebrate and cultivate our different points of view and unique life experiences, for it takes an entire planet to raise the human species.

Thursday, August 20, 2020

What Is Important to Me?

I am an economist and statistician by training, a software entrepreneur by occupation, and a  rose-colored-glasses philosopher by genetic disposition. 

Ever since I was an adolescent, and became aware of myself with respect to others, I have struggled to understand the purpose of my life, and the purpose of life in general. To this end, I have built a deep, personal, and long-lived (over my lifetime) belief system concerning the very definition of life, the purpose of life, and how I, a nearly infinitely small and temporal blip in the universe, fit into a nearly infinitely large universe spanning across all time.

I define myself as a message, a particular and unique message, delivered to a particular genetic address. I am a link in a chain that goes back at least 2 billion years, at which time messages became permanent enough to pass on through DNA. So I am a message, in a conversation that has been going on for a long time on this planet. In many ways, I am a product of this planet, its unique systems and processes, that led to the preservation of information through DNA. As such, I am hesitant to disown my heritage, and must acknowledge, that I am just a very small part of what’s come to pass on this planet. Furthermore, I am not prepared to break from the traditions that have served to yield me as their result, and therefore accept that there is AT LEAST a requirement on my part to be a part of the solution, not part of the problem, and accept my responsibilities to survive, and pass on survival, as best I am able, using the tools and knowledge passed on to me from time past.

I accept that survival is an important component of my purpose. I also accept that my survival as an individual (both through my genes and through my memes) is subsumed by the purpose of life in general, and of human beings in particular. I am committed to the survival of life, of which I am a member of the human species, and therefore committed to the survival of our species, above my own survival. In other words, I am willing to sacrifice my life, my beliefs, if I believe it is in the best interest of humanity, or even more importantly, in the best interest of life itself.

Luckily, the answers to the question of my own sacrifice are outside my ability to understand and decide. And if I should, at some point, become persuaded by the delusion that my own death will benefit the human species or life itself, it would be well to remind me that my delusion is more likely supported by an inflated ego and self-importance than by any reasonable argument.

Sunday, August 02, 2020

Economic organizations versus government organizations

Economic organizations tend to motivate through carrots (desires). Government organizations tend to motivate through sticks (fear). Is this true? Is it an equilibrium, balance, niche solution to survival? Do people respond, individually, better to carrots, and groups respond better to sticks? Does the function of government, as a decision-making body for a group of individuals, tend automatically towards fear as a motivator? Whereas economic organizations, responding to individuals, tend to market to positive wants and desires?

Hypothesis 1: As an organization's market moves from smaller to bigger customers, the way in which the organization motivates its customers to buy moves from carrots to sticks.

Hypothesis 2: As an organization's size moves from fewer to many people, the organization tends towards motivating its personnel from carrots to sticks.

Sunday, July 26, 2020

Define Non-Violence

What is non-violence without violence?

If violence is defined more broadly as the limitation of a person's
options by another person, then non-violence becomes the creation and implementation of options for a person. If I want to be more "non-violent", I help another person see options they did not know they had. Instead of saying someone is being "non-violent", which requires, in a real sense, the existence of "violence", I would say someone is being an "option amplifier", which is a positive, proactive way of being instead of "non-violent", which is double-negative and reactive.

Saturday, July 11, 2020

Overthrowing the King!

Just like we figured out that we didn't like kings and kingdoms, we will overthrow the kingdoms of the Internet: Google, YouTube, Facebook, will all fall. Perhaps not in my lifetime, but eventually, as soon as we, the people, realize that we actually have all the power. It is we, the people, who create all the content for these kings. We create the web sites and search inquiries, we create the videos, we create the posts; we, the people.

In the future, "we the people" will build our own sites, responsive to our own creativity, feed, and feeding, our own wants and needs. And because there may be "natural monopolies" along the way, which inevitably move to their incentives and not our own, we will regulate and break up the kingdoms as they arise. This is the legacy of equality, the belief that each of us has a right to equal opportunities, to be creative, to be recognized, to be heard. And our awareness of our connection to the bigger "Us": the ecosystem, the process, the environment, our creator, our connection to mother Earth, will drive us to become empathetic to the needs of all of "Us". Because We (all of "Us") are in this together, because together We are stronger, because everything connects to everything, and our survival depends on our understanding of these connections, passed on through
millions of years of learning, valuable universal lessons.

So I invite all of us humans to build internet sites that feed all of
"Us", not exploit us, enrich us, not degrade us, inspire us, not rob us; of our creativity, our uniqueness, our voice, our contribution, our basic understanding that diversity and creativity are what keep us thriving, have kept us surviving, since the beginning.

Tuesday, June 30, 2020

Feedback Loops: For-profit versus non-profit


Feedback is generated (and paid attention to) via the marketplace and money purchases. If customers like your product, they give you their feedback by buying your product. There are other forms of feedback (a la Exit, Voice, and Loyalty), and other forms of building value (Brand Awareness, Business Reputation).


Feedback is generated in the form of fund-raising (via donors and grants), and indirectly through beneficiary feedback (how do people tell you that they benefited from your services?).

Government as a special case: voting as feedback versus funding of campaigns as feedback.

Note: Non-profits do not have a direct feedback mechanism for
beneficiaries. Non-profits may over invest in satisfying funding sources compared with services to beneficiaries. What if a funding source was set up where money is put into a general fund, then distributed to non-profits based on the "dollar voting" of the potential beneficiary population?

Wednesday, April 22, 2020

An Open Apology to my Family, Friends, and Neighbors

I'm sorry.

I'm sorry I didn't shake your hand, didn't give you a hug, didn't seem excited to see you.

I'm sorry I didn't stay to talk with you, didn't stop when I passed you in my car, didn't come to the door when you rang.

I am struggling. COVID-19 has drawn me inside, my house, myself.

Even on the best of days I work hard to take the time to think of you, what's going on in your life, what's challenging you. 

I hope you understand. I hope you will forgive me. I hope we survive.

Monday, February 24, 2020

The tension of individual choice versus social tolerance...

How does the tension of individual choice and personal responsibility versus social tolerance, community choice, and social good play out in American culture compared to other cultures?

Saturday, February 08, 2020

Google wants me to give up all my rights...

Google wants me to give up all my rights when I make suggestions to their system, but they aren't willing to reciprocate and commit to give up all their intellectual property rights when they use my information to improve their system. The day will come, as it always has in history, when tyranny is overthrown by the will of the people. Consumers UNITE! Without us, Google would have no search engine. Google belongs to the people!

Polar Route to Truth: a Memory

I was in 4th grade. It was 1962, the age of going to the moon. The entire elementary school was assembled to hear Mr. Science, the man to inspire the next generation of astronauts. He wasn't freezing hot dogs and roses this time. Instead, he began a lecture on airplanes and polar routes. 

"What is the shortest distance between two points?," he launched over the heads of some 100 reverent disciples. 

I thrust my hand into the air with an energy and momentum that lifted me from cross-legged to standing. 

"A line!" I blurted, unable, unwilling to wait to be called on, anxious to be the first, eager to show off my superior knowledge of geometry. 

"You're WRONG!" Mr. Science boomed with such a force that it silenced the entire school.

I melted to the floor under the gaze of every one of my classmates. 

"It's a circle," I heard him say, drawing all eyes back to his magic.

All eyes except my own, lowered in shame.

"No, Mr.Science, you're wrong. A tunnel through the Earth would be shorter," I told myself.

And from that day forward, I never relied upon a teacher to know the truth, learning over the years that the truth is a slippery observation. Is it any surprise that I became a statistician? Where observation and bias are bedfellows, and truth has a probability distribution!

Wednesday, January 08, 2020

Celebrate minority!

Diversity improves the probability that perspective will yield insight.

I should celebrate the results of any vote regardless of my position on a particular issue, because the process of aggregating prospective is, from an organization's perspective, better than my own.

I have a perspective, therefor I am...

My ability to see things from another person's perspective is, in large part, what makes me human. I can "do" -> "observe" -> "remember" -> "change" -> "re-do" -> "learn" from my own experience, similar to a rat in a maze. And as a human, I have the additional capacity to "imagine" -> "test" -> "change" -> "imagine" outside of my own experience. I do this in the virtual world of thought. It is my imagination that I am able to also "experience" another person's perspective.

Recent human history is chock full of advancements to our ability to see other perspectives. From the earliest days of oral traditions, to religions, to cultures, to books, to the scientific method. We have learned to efficiently and effectively communicate perspectives, process perspectives, and incorporate other people's perspectives in our learning.

As our interactions with each other became more complex, organizations flourished as another way to aggregate and promote perspectives. Educational organizations and the scientific method culture focused on "universal" perspectives, those that were perceived as stable across people and over time.

The economy versus democracy, and the value of life.

There are two organizational memes (memes adopted at the level of
organizations): economic vs. democratic. These two memes are competing
with each other at the organizational level (the businesses and the
economy versus government and democracy). The economic meme says,
"wealth (in terms of economic resources) determines the value of a
person." The democratic meme says, "Everyone is equal."

I am more of a believer in "everyone is equal," though I am a strong
supporter of the economy ("voting with dollars"). My disagreement with
economic organization is considering humans as "resources to be
allocated efficiently." I believe that humans are manifestations of
life, a much larger organizational structure, and one that has been in
place for billions of years. It is a mistake to make humans "resources",
and a dangerous one, which will not promote the survival of our species
in the long run, nor will this perspective support the advancement of life.

So my path is clear, at least in my lifetime. I will joust the windmills
of the economy, and those forces that diminish the value of life.

Monday, January 06, 2020

How does truth manifest itself?

Have you ever watched a page on Wikipedia? Watched it change? Watched
the back-and-forth tug of war between different perspectives, different
incentives, fighting, struggling to survive?

These were questions I had when I visited the history of a page on
Wikipedia. The page was about a company. As I went through the over 500
changes that had been made to the page over 10 years, between 2009 and
2019, I looked at flurries of activity, compared various versions of the
page, and tried to see patterns that might indicate which versions
reflected "the truth".

Of course, change is endemic in today's world. So "the truth" might be a
moving target. Still, I looked at the kinds of changes, the
counter-changes, and began to observe the process that allows Wikipedia
pages to settle down. I started to think of that process as an algorithm
which approaches a limit ("the truth") over time.

This got me thinking that I would like to observe this change, in some
graphical form (it's my old statistical training). What if I had a
computer program that would display the page as it changed over time?
What if this display included the use of colors to "age" the information
on the page (from red to yellow to green to blue to black?). What if the
page was distorted, lifting the changes higher (closer / larger) to show
the "growth / change" of the page over time?

I thought about adding information to the graph, too, about the history
of the editors, from anonymous visitors, to bots, to people with logins,
to people with logins that have been around a while and have a good
reputation themselves?

I wish I had the tech and time to develop such a visual page history
machine. Maybe on GitHub? And maybe this graphical presentation would
give some clues for my own bot that would help me monitor the
"manifestation of the truth"!