Tuesday, March 28, 2006

And yet

I feel almost no need to write. I know it's been a while since I wrote something substantive and yet I feel little need to do something about it. I think I have made some interesting observations about the role of fantasy in ideology, politics and even economics. Relationships are evolving, one project has ended, another is slowly but surely begining.. and yet I feel no need to share the details.

I think it might be because I have had opportunities recently to apply my ideas and so have felt less need to vent them literally.

Later.

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Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Ha, Words

Ever notice that we 'rewind' DVD's? And we 'roll down' power windows? I wonder if electric cars will keep their 'gas pedal'.

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Friday, March 17, 2006

Stuff Part II

I got my first substitute teaching gig yesterday. I taught phys. ed. For someone who holds himself in such intellectual esteem I think I held my own on the badminton court. But those sixth graders can put up a good fight. And so, of course, today half of my muscles are in revolt, but I was able to get back to my regular sleeping pattern. That is getting up just in time for Regis and Kelly (on the west coast).

A few nights a week I also teach an after school computer class. We are getting near the end of the program so there is a push to get loose ends tied up. After a few glib, though well spirited, remarks one of the students said, "You are not a very good grown-up." And so I accepted the invitation to review my day, and in the end I agreed. There were also a few small things I had done that morning that I wouldn't have had I my wits about me.

Though I like to think the redeeming factor is that he felt comfortable telling me he thought I had made a mistake. And I like to think adequate sleep will address the issue. I don't foresee the students breaking any windows on my behalf.

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Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Oh my, UPEI

UPEI is in the news again. This time with the possibility of a teacher strike. I hope the significance of this is recognised. It is a demonstration of the separability of the professors and the administration. They have showed they are two independant bodies with different goals.

Myself being a youth, I still see the University from the perspective of the student. I hope the Student Union takes this opportunity to demonstrate their independance from the administration while it is in a compromised position and cannot acutely retaliate for such a display. After the 'toon situation I think such a display is sorely needed.

Ideally I would like to get UPEI out of the national presses to let recent events fade into archive, at least in the national consciousness. I think Ryan Gallant is smart enough to find a way to make a local statement without drawing national attention, but I wonder if he has the foresight, among other things.

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Links: Strike vote at UPEI

Monday, March 13, 2006

Memetics

It's great that I have an excuse to write about memetic, too bad it is a political defense.

Watching documentaries is becoming a favourite past time. (Past times are becoming increasingly important.) I recently took in Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room. A good watch, I recommend it. However there was a 2 second reference to memetics that shook me a little. The reference was rather to Richard Dawkins' book The Selfish Gene, the memeticist's bible. 'Enron' says that this book was a favourite book of Jeff Skilling, ex-Enron CEO. They say the book is about 'how human nature is steered by greed and competition.'

I find the ideas of memetics very useful in dealing with many complex problems. While selfish genes is a central theme to memetics, selfish people is only a minor theme and greedy people as a theme that is neither mentioned nor relevant. In fact, one of the major achievements of memetics is to explain selfless behavior found in nature. Something strict Darwinism could never account for was why some animals would sacrifice themselves for anything other than their offspring. Yet it happens and Dawkins explains it by serving the selfishness of the genes (and memes) common to the benefactor and the beneficiary.

While I think some ideas should be marginalized, they should be marginalized because of the nature of the idea, not because of its associtions. Dianetics should be marginalized, for example, because they don't produce any results desirable to its practioner or the community to which he belongs. But Dianetics should not be side lined because L. Ron Hubbard is a bad man.

Even Darwin's Origin of Species was almost never published for fear of the blowback from the church. Memetics has been a growing science for 30 years now. They are powerful ideas that should be valued by what they can do, not by the misinterpretation of one man.

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Saturday, March 11, 2006

Useful Fiction

We don't hear these words put together enough. A useful fiction is an idea with limited use. A lot of categorical type ideas apply here. Good/bad words, masculine/feminine, plant/animal... All of these ideas are useful in some situations, but when you try to apply them to all situations you make life difficult for the rest of us.

Aesop's fables, for example. They are good stories to tell. They are useful stories to tell. But I wouldn't want to associate myself with people who think a fox and a raccoon ever had a conversation about the right way to eat a tomato. But letting that slide for a moment can help you put some other stuff in order.

This is where it starts to get a little technical. Watching What the Bleep Do We Know may put things clearer. Well, it will basically have a bunch of people tell you about what I am about to say is bunk. I guess there are a few useful insights in there.

What I want to call bunk is this objective probability that has found a home in quantum mechanics and is starting to spray all over the place. If you understand that probability is subjective, something used to fill in as-of-yet unknown information you can stop reading. Like if you flip a coin into the air and you knew everything about the coin and the table it was going to land on, at this point it wouldn't be a matter of probability, you would know which side it was going to land on. It is only when you don't have all this information that probability becomes useful to predict what is going to happen.

Then in 1927 Heisenberg published his Uncertainty Principle. This stated that for any given particle the more precisely we knew its position the less precisely we could know its velocity. This would be like saying we could never know both the spin of a coin and its distance from the table. If you can't know both parts it becomes necessary to talk about it in terms of probability.

But back to this idea of useful fiction. These very smart scientists came up with very useful ways to think about the probability of the very small things they were studying. The only problem is that they started to believe them. They started to believe, not only do we have to treat these particles as probabilities, but that they actually were these blurs of probabilities.

This lead to a paradox. How come all observations show solid, stable, deterministic forms? They resolved this by saying that when two pieces of matter interact they collapse into one of the probable states. In the most advanced forms of the psychosis blur doesn't collapse until it interacts with a conscious mind. This of course makes us feel pretty special, but now it leads to another paradox of how consciousness developed without definite matter. And I'm sure they have their best people on it.

I wonder if it will occur to them to question the question. That this didn't happen. There is no such thing as probabilistic matter. It is just a useful fiction. It is a good way to talk about matter if you want to predict it's behavior. Other than that it's useless.

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Thursday, March 9, 2006

Vandals

Sometimes I am shocked at how different my views are from others. Take this story for example. "One B.C. school had a camera installed to monitor the principal's office after the windows were broken 15 times." I wonder if it occured to anybody that the principal might be fucked up. Ear plugs don't make engine knock go away. Pain killers don't heal you. Pings, pain and broken windows are signs that something is wrong. Fix it. And if after your best efforts the students still want to break your windows we will replace you with somebody our children don't metaphorically want to kick the shit out of.

Talk about freedom of expression. If somebody hates you they will find a way to let you know. Mr. Principal, do you have somebody escort you to your car? I would start. Or I would give students another method of tell you why they are willing to destroy their own property to get the point across. Because it is partly theirs. If it has to be replaced it will affect their lives. If it is not replaced it will affect their learning environment. And, yes, kids can put these things together. I'm slowly finding it is exactly this sort of thing that kids understand better than us grown ups. They understand how their actions affect their environment. They understand the value of feedback. They understand the difference between a show of strength and actual strength.

Take a lesson. Make a note when they tell you 15 times there is a problem they think you can fix. Then fix it.

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Links: Island high school getting surveillance cameras after vandalism

Wednesday, March 8, 2006

Tyranny of Traffic Lights

I just got my first moving violation.

I was on my way back from a Canadian Unity Council discussion on the Atlantic Canadian brain drain. I was seated at a table with a few managers, a lawyer and the like. I started off slow dropping points where I felt the need, but most of the discussion questions seemed rather silly or irrelevant so I didn't feel a need to say much. I suppose what I did say made an impression though because eventually my opionion was expressly solicited. When I got the table away from the discussion questions ideas started to fly. Education for entrepreneurs, trade strategies, how use government to encourage a stable environment for commerce rather than regulate it. It was beautiful. But then, of course, the report of the discussion was based on the questions so none of the magic was reported. Bah! At least I know I can captivate an audience of respectable people.

Then I ran a red light. The nearest cars were 30 seconds away. One of them just happened to be a cop. Even the cop said it looked safe to go but had to issue me a ticket. He also seemed to give me more detail than he had to about bringing it to court. What I did was safe. And waiting for the light would have made those cars have to stop unnecessarily. So waiting for the green would have been less productive. What are laws for if not to promote safety and productivity? It seems like a forest for the trees kind of thing. I might as well put it on the record.

See you in court.


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Tuesday, March 7, 2006

Friday, March 3, 2006

Lies Often Told

I've been comparing the way I deal with authority with the way most others do. Those who know me are aware of the stark contrast. Many have no idea what could possibly be going through my mind when I pull some of what I do. Admittedly, what follows is an ego-centric way to explain the differences, but centering on me seems like a good place to start. Though it would be a shitty place to end.

I find those trying to push the limits of their authority tend to do it by convincing subordinates of two things: what you want you can't get from anywhere else; and there is nothing else worthy of your loyalty. Some of the more archaic institutions do this very explicitly. The church says that only they can get you to heaven, and heaven is the only place you want to be. Then consider educational institutions. Repeat of church, but replace heaven with board room. I've also gotten similar things from employers whose lives would be easier if I believed all I wanted was money and they were the only place to get it. If you do come to believe such things the institution becomes stronger, so they have good reason to try.

To give a quick rebuttal: There is more than one way to skin a cat. Whatever you want there are infinite ways to get it. And secondly, everybody has enemies. To piss him off means to gain more favour from the other. It is really hard to piss everybody off simultaniously. Not that I have tried, but if it could be done easily I would know it. Not that all things are equally deserving of your loyalty, but those most deserving are those that value it most. Anybody who feels they are entitled to my loyalty will find us in an unhealthy relationship.

Now to defend the liars. It is not so much that they lie. I'm not even sure they try to suggest, but what they seem to do is make an environment where people who don't believe these things are not welcome. This type of environment is the typical setting for the 'your either with them or with us' kind of rhetoric. Interestingly, 'they' may even by a partner, but since this would center parts of your loyalty outside the circle it cannot be tolerated.

For example, in dealings in customer service I tend to have a significant portion of my loyalty go to the customers I am serving. Now consider the conflict that happens when I am given direction that is bad for the customers by a superior who demands total loyalty. If I objected I would get the 'your with me or against me' rhetoric and then I will have to quit to show what happens when such ultimatums are put to me. The other option is to follow the letter of his instructions while steering the spirit of my actions to reflect my loyalty to those I serve not because I have to, but because I choose to.

Loyalty to the customers is obviously not bad for the business. But from the management perspective it turns me into a quantum blur rather than a newtonian cog. Interestingly, quantum blurs can still be managed effectively and predictibly. (They get organized into all the wonderful things you see around you.) But it is a different way of thinking. I'll stick with the guys that get it.

An easy solution might be to train myself to show total loyalty to my superiors. I'm sure I could do just that. But then think about the richness of life that would be lost to have the essence of all decisions come from just one source. Or even to try to artifically limit the sources at all. Perhaps it is just me but I would think such a life as too simple, too easy, too boring. I refuse to let my life become boring. It might happen, but there will be a fight.

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