Monday, April 24, 2006

A Question of Maturity

Most people seem to measure maturity as a function of how long it was since you were born and how easily they can get you to do what they say. (Three times now I told that kid to erect the flaming cross on the neighbour's lawn and it's still not done. Goddamn kid's got a lot to learn!)

While age is about the best indicator of physical maturity, I think a good indicator of social/psychological maturity is how easily they are influanced by the salesman (while still being sensitive to the well intentioned efforts of the advisor). There are some situations that reoccur so many times in life we should eventually know what questions to ask, and know when the salesman is getting us to focus on the wrong ones. The mature person should be able to put the issue in a more meaningful frame.

A simple example is 'Buy or Rent'. Not anything specific, well, maybe a widget... just follow along with me. You need a widget. You have decided on the make, model, where to get it, the only question left if buy or rent. If you buy it you make a down payment and the reoccuring fees are much lower. If you rent the widget the payments are higher but you don't have to make the large initial payment.

Enter the salesman. Assume that he wants you to buy the widget. Maybe he gets a bonus if you buy, or for whatever reason he wants you to buy. He can then easily play down the burden of the down payment, How many times do you eat out a week.. cook at home for the next X weeks and it is paid for, and play up the reoccuring payments, Do you really want to have to face a bill of X every month? And it makes sense. If this is the frame issue stays in then buying makes alot of sense.

Likewise if the salesman wants you to rent then he plays up the issue of the down payment and makes the reoccuring payments seem managable. And when he is done talking renting makes sense in this frame of reference.

Many people will make the decision based on the integrity of the salesman. If they think he is not trustworthy they will do the opposite of what he suggests. But remember the indicator for maturity: focusing on the wrong questions. This issue is about whether you should buy or rent a widget. How did the integrity of the salesman become an issue?

In this highly idealized example there are two questions that matter: How much and how long?
Of course it doesn't have to be this formal, but the curves are how much money you have spent over time. The red is if you buy (then maintain), the blue is if you rent. Once you get here the question becomes are you still going to need the widget after the curves cross? If so you will save money by buying it. Solved! And there was no need to speculate on the integrity of the salesman.

This model is also useful for issues of initial investments of time and attention. But instead of starting over every time you encounter a situation like this you can start off with a few speicalized tools then get ready to improvise.

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Thursday, April 20, 2006

Feedback

So I had a job interview. It was going really well, like really well, the interviewer was laughing and carrying on and such. I was certain the job was mine. Then I diplomatically told him to grab his ankles and think of England.

As a preamble I have to say that I have no idea when it comes to the labour market. Have I written this before. I have said it many times. Not only this, but I have never heard anybody talk about the labour market in a way that made me think they had any better idea than me (though they may have said it very forcefully). I say the problem is a lack of differentiated feedback. For every application submitted you either get a call or you don't. This is a very hard to learn anything with this limited information. It would be like trying to learn calculus from morse code bips and beeps, though not knowing morse code. And now the story:

I'm pretty sure most of us have experienced the demoralization of applying for an entery level job. This one involved my resume, copying the information on to their standard application, a personality profiling, an IQ and a CSQ (Customer Service Qutient) test. I was certain the personality profiling part would trip me up, but I guess I played the character of a subservient authoritarian better than I thought I had. Or for whatever reason I was called in for an interview.

Things were going well. He stopped in the middle of a speech and asked if I had any questions. I refered to my list and we agreed most of them, including what about my file had appealed to him, could wait til later. Now, with the promise of actual, real life feedback I went into full extrovert mode. I became animated, used vivid language and images, and probably disclosed a little more than I normally would have.

Then came my turn. What about my application had appealed to him? He told me that I had retail experience and I wasn't in school.. and stopped. And kept a straight face. Apparently there was nothing in my testing, personal history, animation or images that appealed to him. Wow, did that feel like a waste of time and effort. He then countered with 'Why should I offer the job to you?' Rather than telling him that I had retail experience and I wasn't in school I told him I wasn't certain he should. I shook the man's hand, excused myself and walked out.

On the plus side I had two more jobs as a teaching substitute.

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Monday, April 17, 2006

Dissenter

Is there some rule against commenting that you disagree with an blog article? I've experiemented with it a little. In the most high profile instance an established blogger whom I regard rather highly pushed the limits of his expertise a little too far as to draw conclusion that would make sense if you only read his column, but otherwise felt very wrong. I wanted to be courteous about it so I wrote a one line comment that I disagreed with many of his conclusions.

I could have gone into specifics if I felt the need but I like to know efforts will be effective before I commit. I thought there was a small chance that I could be asked for specifics or further information of some kind. This didn't happen. I didn't get flamed or anything, what happened only seems like a small step up. His regular readers pumped the comment box full of uncritical praise. They would usually have something more to say than 'Oh, you are so wize.' It struck me as a little childish.

That is why this is such a big deal. Dita, of hellodita.com, has assumed the voice of the silent majority. I have spoken to enough people to know most of what I say is not easy to swallow. But you might never know it reading comments.

My greatest hope would be that this is a small step toward meaningful debate in the blog-o-sphere.

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Friday, April 14, 2006

Story time Pt. 1

I am a deciple of Darwinism. 'Natural selection' just might have been the two most insightful words ever uttered in history. I found my appreciation for the survival of the fittest model by pushing it as far as I could and seeing that even in extreme cases it seemed to have something useful to contribute, either in explaination or prediction.

Not always though. There has been the standing issue of the blood clot. A blood clot is a synthesis of about 50 protiens, all of which are necessary to make anything useful. I.E if you take any one of them away you get a protien soup rather than a blood clot. This is a problem for Darwinism which tends to build everything in small, independant steps. I now suspect that the clot was built in small steps up to 100 or so protiens then withered down to the 50 specialized protiens we have now. But to my knowledge a robust model is still pending.

There is also the problem of the inert gene sequences. Richard Dawkins helped with that problem by supposing gene-centric, rather than organism-centric, evolution in his book The Selfish Gene. In this same book was the seeds of the new science of memetics. Memetics helped me get over most of the other problems I had with Darwinism, but one major issue remains.

There is an understandable story that tells of how molecules on a lifeless earth came to be reorganized to build such wonderful things as the societies and institutions we have today. I have reason to believe such a story exists but that certain chapters of it have not been written yet. The major unwritten chapter in my story is the development of sexual reproduction.

With the help of memetics and Steve Grand's book Creation, I can follow how in the primordial soup there would have been created a few molecules that, by some aspect of their nature, directly or indirectly encouraged other similar molecules to be formed. These molecules would have undergone exponential growth until they reached some natural carrying capacity.

This point could likely have been the first time in history survival of the fittest was put into full effect. This is when the small variations in copying during the exponential growth would have given some molecules advantages over others to have access to the resources necessary to make further copies. The advantages would have been slight, perhaps not much more powerful than chance, but unlike chance these advantages would have been consistent and would therefore shape populations.

As the competition built innovation upon innovation, the molecules would have grown more complex. The larger molecules would now need many substances and catalysts to synthesize themselves and could now be seen to amass them in a sort of bag, perhaps with a lipid lining that we might want to call a cell, though they would have been much smaller and many orders of magnatude less sophisticated. But it might have been a distant relative of the cell nucleus.

Many intermediate forms later, the duplication process got very sophisticated. Another layer of encapsulation has been added to readily store even more substances and catalysts. Many variations of cells have likely experimented with growing even larger but the thickness of the membrane necessary to contain that much mass wasn't effective. A few might have tried moving toward adding a third membrane but it added complexities that just didn't work.

A few of the cells got lucky and stumbled onto something that did work. They started collecting or synthesizing molecules that were sensitive to things like heat and light, and others found more ways to get information about their environment. Some would take in a sample from the outside world and bring it in for analysis.

Information about your environment is not much help if you can't do anything about it so response mechanisms were developed. These may have included propulsion and a way of releasing specific chemicals when they found themselves in a certain kind of enviroment.

When in the presence of other cells there would have been interesting releases of chemicals that triggered a counter-release, and so on. This could easily be considered the first communication. As time went on and complexity grew, these communications could come to include vibrations and discharges of light and heat. The sophistication of communication got to a level where other cells could be coordinated so that they actually worked with each other instead of against each other. Being in a crowded area still meant you had less of a stake in the food in area, but woking as a network took less effort to capture it. These were perhaps the first societies and made possible new biological forms like sponges.


And I think that is all for now. I may continue this later.. probably in another post.

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Wednesday, April 12, 2006

That's outrageous

I read the story on the CBC site titled: 16 months for drunk driving. First thing that I thought was 'That's outrageous'. That sounds pretty damn high. But I kept reading to find he plead guilty to impaired driving causing death. Then I thought 'That's outrageous'. That sounds pretty damn low. Then I kept reading to find that the victims had been passengers in his car. I.E. they chose to ride with a drunk man and not wear seat belts. Then I thought 16 months was a high, not outrageous, but high. Then I thought he is only going to serve about a third of that, I think. So that sounds about right, I guess. Then I thought 'I've never been to jail, I have no idea what kind of a punishment 5 months would be in jail.' My best guess is that it is probably not much different from being really poor. Either way you would have people telling you what to do all the time.

Links: 16 months for drunk driving
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Thursday, April 6, 2006

Thoughts on Democracy

End of history, my ass.

Should we really be surprised that your vote is no longer your own? Now it effectively belongs to whoever owns the media or some other factory of political authority. But this has happened before, so should we be surprised?

Every society must be built on something that begins with the people. No society can exist without the people contributing to it. With democracy we tried to formalize it and called the unit of contribution a vote. In it's natural state the unit of contribution is labour. So democracy, in the sense that all power originates from the people, is not only the natural state, but it is inescapable. Autocracy arises out of the way that the labour is organized. That is to say people can be organized to labour toward their own oppression. Likewise, people can be organized to vote in favour of their own oppression. Formal democracy seems like a small detour that ultimately leads to the age-old revolutionary cycle.

I hope I'm wrong.

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Wednesday, April 5, 2006

Mamma, I'm comming.

Looks like I might get to see my mother. I haven't seen her since 1992. OMG, that is 14 years. And she hasn't seen me in 14 years. I sent her some grad photos and we talk on the phone some times but, yeah, it's not the same.

She lives in Saskatchewan. She has family there. My sister, Kim, and my brother, Craig, have both gone to see her. But neither I nor my other brother Wesley have gone to see her. We have never been big on travel. I can usually find enough wonder at home to keep me occupied.

The trip proposed so far has me and Wes following Kim to Sask as she then continues on to BC. She's done this trip a few times on her own so I know I'm in good hands. There are still some finer details to work out but I think I am going to get to see my mother.

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