Ming the Mechanic - Category:

The NewsLog of Flemming Funch

Friday, November 7, 2014day link 

 Welcome to the 5th dimension
picture I have for many years held on to a particular model of human conscious evolution that I heard once. Read about it in my article here: The Singularity and the Fifth Dimension. It lays out how humanity is in the process of moving from the 3rd to the 5th "dimension" and what that actually means. And, note that, as I mentioned, it doesn't have to be taken as some new age spiritual kind of thing, but can just as well be a model of technological progress. and the required evolution in consciousness to deal with it.

Briefly, 3D was where things got done by getting the inspiration for them, by thinking about it, by getting in the mood, and then working hard on doing what it takes. Spirit -> Thought -> Emotion -> Effort -> Manifestation. The old-fashioned idea of: if you put your mind to it and work hard, you'll see some rewards in life, after quite a few years. Doing big things required large investments of physical effort and time.

4D speeded things up quite a bit. You still need inspiration and thought, but things start happening already when you're really in the mood, and you get other people in the right mood. Think advertising and think Internet overnight dot-com successes. Spirit -> Thought -> Emotion -> Manifestation. How much work went into something is no longer such an important factor. Facebook is worth more than twice as much as General Motors, even though it was a much much smaller effort. At the same time, what is there can crumble very quickly, when suddenly people feel different about it. The Arab Spring. Powerful centralized regimes can be toppled almost overnight.

Note that I'm saying, more or less, that we already went into that phase. It is more or less the epoch of the Internet.

But what about the next step? In case you follow me in imagining that something like this actually is going on.

5D is a further acceleration. Things happen when thought becomes coherent. It no longer matters so much what people really feel or what they actually are doing, or for that matter, what actually is there. The mere thought sends things off into a different direction. Spirit->Thought->Manifestation.

You might have interpreted that as instant magic, as if stuff would materialize in thin air the moment you think about it, but there's no reason to take it quite as literally. Just like the 4D Internet Age indeed changed things, but not to the degree that your feelings made things appear out of thin air. It is not direct creation as much at it is attraction. It is an organizing principle, not godly superpowers. With the arrival of the Internet, we started being attracted to what was exciting, or what was horrible, more than to what took lots of time and effort to build. Likewise, in the next phase, we organize ourselves based on something else, on clarity of thought, I'd say.

So, 5D, what might that actually look like?

I had provided some warnings about us totally not being ready for it, that we'd go crazy and/or blow ourselves up really quickly. And in some ways we are, but not quite as dramatically as I laid it out.

Group insanity has become a lot more apparent. Large groups of people believe themselves to live in realities that to most others are stark raving lunacy. US Politics provides plenty of illustration. This is quite different from different people simply having different beliefs. It is not just that some people prefer more spending on social programs and others prefer strengthening private initiatives. It is that the other guys seemingly are living in the world of Looney Tunes and are acting en masse as if it is totally real to them. And they in turn imagine some outrageous things about the folks you hang out with, seeing you as totally unable to deal with things as they really are.

It isn't just that some people go to church on Sundays and others on Saturdays, and some people don't like pork. It is that groups emerge seemingly overnight that get a lot of people to believe that everybody who doesn't believe the same things as them should be beheaded. Note that the same people will be willing and able to argue logically for that belief. Or think about the rather large group of people who believe that everybody who believes anything that is spiritual, metaphysical or religious is certifiably insane and there's absolutely nothing to discuss about it, they should just stop.

You'll notice that for a lot of those groups, a certain system of thought is what they aggregate around, and it is of little or no interest to try to calibrate their beliefs with what actually is there. Not that they don't calibrate against anything, but what they calibrate against is collections of thoughts, not what feels right, not what actually happened, not what anybody else might have to say.

We're seeing a split into many different realities. Realities that hardly overlap. People are living in worlds with drastically different rules and importances. In many respects, most of those worlds are fantasy worlds. People in them are stuck in the matrix, not having much of a concept of what is beyond it.

And you'll notice that, at the same time, we're at the brink of disaster. Out of control climate change, linked to ever accelerating pollution and resource depletion. Humanity might quite possibly make itself extinct in less than another century. And in a quite different way than back in the 1960s where it looked a lot like humanity might kill itself in global nuclear war. Back then, most people were very focused on the realities of the sides of the conflict. Today a lot of people will argue that the problem is not even there, and the important problems are some totally different things, like gay marriage or having the right religion.

As predicted, luckily not everybody has gone insane. The majority probably has. Oh, not necessarily in a "behead the infidels!!!" kind of way. For a lot of people, their insanity is simply to stay stuck in a little world where they have a job, and they have a family, and they stay busy with those things, and with the news and watching youtube, and with planning their retirement, and they don't really know that they're in a cabin on the Titanic and the captain is asleep.

So, how do we get used to it? How do we get on top of it? How do we survive it?

In the transition to the 4D Internet Age, there were some adjustments to make. The world became less stable and less solid, but there were still some guidelines for doing well. Don't count on a job for life. Learn to market yourself. Be interesting. Communicate. Don't bother to keep up with everything that goes on. Keep a finger in the air to notice which way the wind is blowing. If you need something, and you have your antennas out, it will probably come to you. No need to hoard it all in the basement in advance. Do what you feel is right, not what your parents told you you were supposed to do.

I'm not sure what the 5D world should be called. Not sure either what the principles are for surviving it, as we haven't done so yet. But, some possibilities:

There are no right thoughts. You need the flexibility to have options in how you think and be able to choose between them based on what works best. If you have only one way of thinking about something, you're stuck.

Information isn't reality, and should never be accepted at face value. If somebody tells you something, you need to be ready to evaluate whether that works for you, whether it can be verified against something observable, and whether it feels right to you.

To get anything to happen, you need to be able to name what it is. It needs to be a complete thought. Lots of other things are not needed. It doesn't have to be realistic or elaborately worked out, but it does have to be clear.

You have to be conscious of what you're thinking. You need to have a choice about it. If you merely go along with what is presented to you, you'll live in somebody else's fantasy world. If you consciously choose, you can change worlds.

The world comes together in the right way if you deliberately network the elements you choose to have in it. There's no ideology or group or method you simply can join which will make it all alright without you having to think. You have to think about every single piece. Think doesn't mean to repeat or rephrase something you've heard. It means to be conscious.

Thinking isn't some after-the-fact analysis. Thinking is a choice. You can only choose if there are options to choose from, or you create options. Not fake manufactured options of what brand of shampoo to buy, but options of actually different avenues to take. It is only successful if you calibrate against the results somehow.

Welcome to the 5th dimension! I hope we make it.
[ | 2014-11-07 23:12 | 8 comments | PermaLink ]  More >

Monday, November 7, 2011day link 

 Notice the incidental
picture If you want to know the truth, don't look where the magician leads you to look. If you want to know what a company really is doing, don't look in their annual report or in their press releases. If you want to know what a politician is about, his speeches might not be the place to start.

The traces that people leave behind tell you something about what they've been doing and what they're like. Less so, the selective and screened and carefully prepared presentations they make. More so, the unnoticed tracks they leave when they go about their business and when they maybe don't know that anybody is watching.

If we're talking about an individual, their unconscious body language might reveal things, even when they're giving a prepared presentation. What they do once the camera is off will tell you something about who they are. What would tell you a lot more would be how they are privately. If it is a person you personally are going to do something together with, it would be very worthwhile to get to know them in a variety of situations. How are they when they're tired and frustrated? How is it to have a disagreement with them? What do they spend their time doing when nobody's watching? If you don't know them personally, it would still tell you a lot about them to catch them in any kind of unguarded moment. Or to examine what is going around them. How are the people they're close to. How are the activities they've been involved in.

You don't really know people, and you can't trust them, if you only go by their prepared materials, their CV, their speeches, their commercials, their promises, their self-definitions.

The same for organizations. The picture they're presenting to you is most likely what they would like to present to you, not what they really are. Some organizations employ a lot of people who's main job it is to make it look much better than what it is and to hide what really is going on. They work in PR, Marketing, Legal, Community Relations, Customer Service, etc. The people who work there might have a more noble idea of what they're there for, but that's very often what it adds up to. So, don't expect to get truth that way. Expect to get a decoy.

You can't necessarily expect to get better information from people or organizations who are stated opponents of whoever you're looking at. They will also mainly give you prepared packages of information designed to tell you what they want to tell you.

It isn't just that people are crooks who want to mislead everybody. Most people aren't crooks. But our society favors quite one-dimensional versions of everything. There are great economic and political advantages in presenting very clean, simple, straightforward pictures of what one is and what one does. But the realities of life are a lot more multi-dimensional, complex, fuzzy, ambiguous, facetted. The truth has its own beauty, but it isn't guaranteed to be neat and pretty and coherent and politically correct and easily embedded in a soundbite. So it is usually hidden, and a lot of effort is expended in denying its existence.

Nobody can control all information about themselves, other than in relation to people who don't take time to pay attention and look for themselves. But that's most people. It is just a matter of habit, though. Even if you don't have time to analyze something in depth, to find what's up and down to it, you can at least think a bit critically about it, and notice the incidental details that are out of sight.

If you're being asked to look at something, it will often serve you better to look elsewhere.

Ref: Incidental Data Analysis
[ | 2011-11-07 17:22 | 4 comments | PermaLink ]  More >

Wednesday, July 14, 2010day link 

 Consciousness of Pattern
picture Our minds are to a large degree pattern matching machines. As kids we've learned the difference between tables and chairs, and to recognize which things are edible and which aren't, and that food goes into the mouth, and trash goes into the trashcan, and trashcans go outside on Thursdays. We can smoothly decipher letters and words and sentences, in the languages we know. We can recognize thin ice, friendly or angry faces, and tunes from old TV shows. We're pretty damned versatile.

We're less good with more complex patterns. We certainly have developed some, and worked out a partial understanding of others. We live in societies with complicated infrastructures and we can entertain intricate theories about science and philosophy. Some of them are very useful and reusable. But we're not terribly good at being conscious of several levels at the same time. It tends to be one or another. Most people live in the everyday routine, at best keeping good track of when they're going to work, when bills need to be paid, and who will be in the superbowl. Others live in a more abstract pattern, seeing the world as one big scientific model, or as a philosophical exercise, at the same time being a little dense when it comes to the most immediate stuff.

But how about being aware of the forest at the same time as the tree? How can you be focused on the work at hand AND the whole group or activity you're part of?

Can one simultaneously be aware of being an individual, and a collection of cells, and a part of a group, and an expression of universal consciousness?

To be conscious of patterns of a higher order, it helps to have a language to describe them. Pattern languages are just that. They're ways of making abstract patterns explicit and thus easier to be aware of and work with. It you don't have a word for something, it is hard to stay aware of it, without slipping into unconsciousness about it. If you know explicit patterns, you can apply them to stuff you construct or participate in. Easier to knit a sweater when you have a pattern, easier to learn the dance steps if there are footprints on the floor.

There can be, and are, pattern languages for architecture, for software development, for collaboration. It is maybe a little odd to call them languages, as we typically merely are talking about collections of described patterns. A pattern language can also go further, and attach words to stuff that previously was impossible to describe. The existence of patterns or a pattern language can allow you to deliberately create certain effects that maybe otherwise seemed completely random and out of your hands. An architect who uses a pattern language might deliberately create a space that people feel good in, because he can express himself in forms that have certain meanings to the people who use them, whether they are consciously aware of it or not.

Another simple example. You're having a meeting with some people. This post was inspired in part by an online discussion I had with George Pór and Seb Paquet. Like most people who need to have an online meeting, we picked from the most available tools for doing such a thing, and we used Skype. We can talk at the same time, and we can chat at the same time. It doesn't yet do video for 3 people, if they're Mac users. But tools and meeting formats shape what happens. Are you aware of how? When you meet with a group of people, are you aware how the pattern the meeting is structured by will influence what will happen?

Patterns are just as important as what you "do" or what you focus on. Maybe more. If you work really hard, but you work on the wrong thing, it doesn't do you much good. The pattern is the frame, the setting, the subtext, the context. A pattern is maybe something abstract, but is an expression of something very real and concrete, which often is outside our awareness, and often not within our ability to talk about.

If you have a meeting where everybody says whatever they feel like, whenever they feel like it, that's some kind of pattern. If you have a meeting where the head guy talks first, and then people ask questions, that's another pattern. A meeting where different roles are assigned to the participants is different from a meeting without any roles. Somebody might keep written notes, somebody might do a mind map, somebody might try to summarize conclusions. A meeting where the members commit to doing certain things after the meeting, like trying to communicate the essence of what happened, or implementing what was agreed upon, is different from a meeting without such a commitment. All of those are different patterns.

If we know we're dancing together, we can relax and just dance. If we don't know what we're doing, maybe somebody will analyze it afterwards and tell us. But there's something to say for a coherence between different levels in real time. If you stay conscious of more complex collective patterns you're participating in while you're doing your own thing, maybe it all will fit better together.

In the past I've once or twice had the job of designing information systems for medium sized companies with 50-100 employees, where I was supposed to essentially computerize most of the activities and workflows that were taking place. I was somewhat stunned to discover that although each person was quite sure of their own job, the whole picture usually didn't fit together. Person B would undo what person A had done. Person C would put the files in alphabetical order, and person D would put them back in numerical order. And person E would do absolutely nothing, without anybody noticing. Lots of effort was wasted because nobody ever had looked at the whole thing. The CEO was doing CEO kind of stuff, the Receptionist was doing receptionist kind of stuff. Nobody had the job of making the whole thing fit together. But I had to understand that in order to make any attempt of creating an information system to support these people.

If you're busy doing something, but it is out of sync with what the overall activity is about, or if a bunch of you are busy doing stuff, but nobody has any clue what it all is about, maybe there's not much synergy. Or maybe there is, and you don't know it. Just imagine that you could be conscious of the next higher level as well. While you do what you do, you somehow sense what the bigger picture is as well.

What a group of people do together can't always be reduced to a neat organizational chart or an executive summary. It might not even be possible to express exactly what it is. The coherence in a collective activity isn't dependent on words. There might be an entirely non-verbal thing going on, but it might still be coherent. Non-verbal memes might even spread elsewhere, without anybody being able to say exactly what happened.

There are many levels to what is happening. The more you become conscious of patterns, the more likely it is that you're sensing more levels.

You can be in sync with higher levels of the system you're operating in without necessarily being conscious about it. Individual ants don't have to walk around being super-conscious of the whole ant colony. They just do simple stuff and it adds up to a coherent whole. The trouble with us humans is that we have the capability to imagine higher order patterns, but we aren't yet well equipped to get it right. So we might end up working on discordant higher order patterns, even though we each superficially appear to be doing our jobs well.

It reminds me of the idea of holonomics. Developing a sense of patterns on many levels and how they intertwine.

The awareness of patterns and of levels is maybe more important than whether you get it exactly "right". It isn't about great precision, but rather about being approximately in the same ballpark. If you're dancing with a thousand other people, there are many ways of doing it right. Yet, lawn mowers and chain saws and blue whales might not really be in harmony with the action.

Six billion people doing each their own thing doesn't make a healthy civilization. It is a little better if they have a sense of what they are doing and where that is going. Even better if they could sense what patterns they're weaving together. Better yet if most of us were conscious of the patterns of patterns that evolve.

The world is becoming very complicated and complex. The times where single individuals could understand and explain most of what goes on in the world have passed a long time ago. Several hundred years ago, really, and since then the complexity of our information has grown exponentially.

What we need more than a lot of specialists is people who can operate at a higher level. People who can sense patterns within clouds of uncertainty. People who can see the lay of the land, even if in low resolution. If you're too left brain and focused and insistant on accounting for everything, you probably can't. It takes a different kind of peripheral vision to sense the patterns in the whole.

What you're clearly and consciously focused on is just the tip of the iceberg, in several directions. You, yourself, have lots more going on sub-consciously than consciously. If you're not sensing where things are going for you, you're gonna miss your own boat. Same with your role in bigger things, your part in groups you're in, and in the world. What you're immediately focusing on is just one small part of it. Much bigger things are in motion. If you somehow can sense those currents and become a little more conscious of them, you're a lot more likely to do something constructive.

We're all able to sense the coherence of patterns to one degree or another. If you're watching a movie or somebody's telling you a story, you know if it feels right or not. There are many possible variations of good stories, but they tend to have a certain kind of flow and rhythm. They're not just random stuff thrown together. Yet in everyday life we seem remarkably willing to put up with stuff that doesn't fit well together. If we turn up our awareness of the patterns around us, maybe we'll find that we do have more choice about it than we thought.
[ / , | 2010-07-14 13:35 | 17 comments | PermaLink ]  More >

Monday, June 28, 2010day link 

 Pump up the synchronicity
picture Synchronicities are meaningful coincidences. Subjectively meaningful. Several things happen in adjacent space or time that somehow fit together, even though they supposedly didn't have anything to do with each other.

Really, everything is always connected with everything else. The multiverse is probably really all in one piece. But there are so damned many pieces, and we're so out of touch with the inter-connectedness of everything, that most of the time most of the pieces just don't fit together at all.

Just look at your own day and the inflow you probably got today. Loads of e-mails, news stories, tweets, advertisements, phone calls, etc. Some of them were maybe exactly what you needed at the right time, but more likely, most of them didn't hit any spot and were just distractions.

A synchronicity would be if you suddenly get a bright idea, say that you could have a mushroom farm. Two seconds later you check your e-mail and, lo and behold, one of your friends just sent you an article about basement mushroom farming. It is a synchronicity. We could say that it is a random coincidence, because your friend didn't really know you just got that idea, and he sent the article for totally unrelated reasons. But it is meaningful to you, like a sign from the universe that, yes, that's a good idea.

Or, you join some new group on Facebook, and immediately run into somebody who you went to school with, who incidentally is into some other obscure unrelated thing you're into too, like paragliding or 12th century Russian poetry. A synchronicity. It isn't just some superstitious silliness. It tells you that stuff is connecting.

Just imagine now that we can jack up the rate of synchronicity in your life. More synchronicity per unit of time, and less non-synchronicity. What if most of the chance meetings you had turned out to be tremendously meaningful and useful? What if most of the unexpected pieces of information you received turned out to unexpectedly be exactly what you needed at the time?

There are lots of quite straightforward ways of increasing relevancy in your life. If we were talking ads, you could receive more targeted ads. Instead of ads targeted at "anybody and everybody", you might get ads that fit your profile, and that are likely to suggest something to you that you actually might want. Of course it would be even better if they only suggested to you exactly what you want, but it would still be an improvement. Amazon's book suggestions are pretty good, because I've bought from them and they can approximate what I might like that I don't already have. Book suggestions in random magazines in my mailbox are not very good.

By simply increasing the number of things I'm exposed to, we might increase the number of fits I run into. Particularly if we can lower the cost per exposure at the same time. It requires me much less effort to scan the twitter feeds of hundreds of people than it would take me to read all their blogs, which again is much less effort than would me needed if I had to interview each one to find out if we match somehow.

What we need and want, what inspires us, what triggers us - it is like the receptors on genes and anti-genes. OK, it probably isn't, but it is a suitable metaphor. Certain anti-genes will fit together with certain genes, because their "plugs" fit together. It is a general principle for many parts of living organisms. Receptors are essentially protein molecules to which certain types of signaling molecules can attach. Put a bunch of each together, in a big mix of other stuff, shake and stir it vigorously, and a lot of the receptors will end up connecting with the matching molecules. Increase the volume of any of them, or increase the speed of flow, or increase the random shaking, and you'll see more of them connect. Meme-receptors probably work the same.

It is a selection bias as well. One sees what one is looking for. But it is more than that. Synchronities are matches that we weren't particularly looking for at that time. Granted, we were looking for them elsewhere, so they were still present in our consciousness somewhere.

But it is all also more than that.

I would claim that synchronicities are a sign of collective intelligence. You see more synchronicities, something about the bigger system around you is working at a higher level. There's an alignment happening, possibly at a level you couldn't easily understand all by yourself.

It is like being "in the flow". Things are aligned. But not just aligned in a very straightforward one-dimensional way. Things are aligned at levels you aren't conscious of. So, things just appear when you need them, answers appear seconds after the question, solutions show up when there's a problem. You take a step into the river and a rock happens to be there to support you.

None of us appear to be smart enough individually to solve the big problems in the world. It doesn't matter if we put everything we know into a neat spreadsheet and analyze it carefully. We just tend to think in too few dimensions, like trying to solve five dimensional problems with two-dimensional logic.

So, we really, really need to find ways of operating at a higher order. The hope is for collective intelligence. That somehow we'll succeed in organizing ourselves in such a way that our efforts not only don't cancel each other out, but all together we accomplish more than the sum of our individual efforts. And that somehow the net result of our actions demonstrates a higher level of intelligence than what any one of us could have demonstrated individually. Collective Intelligence. Being smarter together.

Since it isn't just something we can *figure out* brute force the same old way we'll figure out what career to pursue or why our car makes a funny sound, we need some new types of tools.

We need tools that increase collective intelligence.

We also need ways of being aware of an increase in the signs of collective intelligence. I claim that synchronicity is one of those signs. If you see more synchronicities, more collective intelligence is happening. Something is lining up.

Like bio-feedback, if you have an indicator of whether something is going in the "right" direction or not, you might suddenly find that you can increase it, even though you didn't think you could. It certainly beats operating in the dark.

So, if you experience more fits, something more intelligent is going on. Even if you don't understand what it is, you might still be able to steer towards even more.

More surprisingly meaningful connections will, of course, weave even more coherence, and give rise to even more delightful just-in-time surprises.

[ / , | 2010-06-28 00:03 | 31 comments | PermaLink ]  More >

Thursday, October 29, 2009day link 

 Convergent or Divergent
picture I've written about it before, but it is important enough to bear repeating.

Different settings, tools, or approaches might be convergent or divergent. Meaning, some of them tend to converge on a particular result, and some of them tend to send you off into different directions, i.e. they have a diverging effect.

These terms are also used to describe weather, which makes for some interesting metaphors.

If you maintain the illusion that you're going to get something done, you should know that most of what goes on on the Internet is divergent. There are zillions of ways of being distracted. Lots of tidbits of information are drifting by, lots of people are rotating in your periphery. A lot of this is interesting and gives you new ideas about what else you could do, or what you could study, or what you could talk about, or how you could be entertained.

Some people make the hasty conclusion that this kind of connectivity per definition is a time waster. They might still use it, but might limit it as a drug. "OK, I'll just do an hour on the Net after dinner, and I'll just check my e-mail in the morning, for 10 minutes".

Divergence isn't bad. It is great for many things. The only problem is if you only have divergence tools, and nothing else.

Somehow, tools for convergence got left out, mostly. I'd like to invent some more. Hopefully I get around to that soon.

If you're very focused, the Net is a great tool. I.e. if you ensure the convergence yourself, and you resist all the invitations to diverge, it can indeed provide what you need, very quicly. If you have a specific question or quest, like finding the best and cheapest lawn mower, the Net can help you. Actually the Net doesn't help you very actively with that, but it provides everything you need to decide it on your own.

Most tools on the net will offer you a smorgasbord at every step, even if you have something specific in mind. Like, if I spend 1/2 hour on locating that lawn mower. In that time I'd have been offered 1000s of other possibilities for products, for other activities, for reading the news, etc. If I'm weak, I'll be looking at LOL cats at the end of that 1/2 hour, and I'd have bought a couple of books about medieval mysticism at Amazon. If I'm strong, I'd have my answer, and I'd have avoided the other temptations.

It is like a repetitive game of Find Waldo. I get presented with one scenario after each other, and if I'm sharp and I locate Waldo each time, and thus refine my search, I might arrive at the target. And, sure, Waldo is always there, but so are 100s of other strange things.

So, just imagine for a moment how it would be if your tools were primarily convergent. In my lawn mower search, I'd maybe start with a broad view of everything that's available on lawn mowers on the net. Then I'd be offered sorts by satisfaction level and price and availability in my area. I'll get a cross section of these, and some table of features for the best matches, and I can make my choice. All of it without being offered all these other things, and all of it without fake information and hype.

Maybe that's the semantic web. It can certainly be hard to provide such a search tool without a consistent coding of all information on the net.

But it is also simply a decision to make tools that lead towards specific results for the user, rather than off into new directions.

E-mail, wikis, blogs, twitter, facebook, they all function more to surprise you with something new than they do to get done what you know you want to do. Yes, they could all be used for that purpose, but it requires a mind of steel.

An example of a tool would be software for running a meeting of people who need to make some decisions together. You maybe won't be able to start using it before the purpose of the meeting has been placed in the proper slot, and it will be visible during the meeting. Maybe there are different phases set up, which all are designed to lead, as a funnel, towards the desired outcome. So, maybe a visioning phase, maybe a brainstorming phase. Maybe making a list of possibilities, then having a mechanism for examining them, listing pros and cons, voting, or whatever. Finally weeding things down to the very short list of what has been decided, and then some way of making sure that everybody's very clear on what that was.

Anyway, since I only wrote this posting as a way of distracting myself from what I have to do today, let me get back to work...
[ | 2009-10-29 14:03 | 3 comments | PermaLink ]  More >

Sunday, August 5, 2007day link 

 Perverse incentives
Wikipedia: Perverse Incentive:
A perverse incentive is a term for an incentive that has an unintended and undesirable effect, that is against the interest of the incentive makers. Perverse incentives by definition produce negative unintended consequences. It is a term probably first coined by Edgar Allan Poe in his short story: The Imp Of The Perverse
Some examples:
- Some social welfare programs only give money to people with no job. Some argue that this discourages people from working because they would lose welfare benefits if they became employed. According to these critics, this leads to a net increase in poverty. This effect is called the 'Welfare trap.'

- Paying the executives of corporations proportionately to the size of their corporation is intended to encourage them to grow their companies by growing the bottom line (and not their earnings per share). However, it may cause them to pursue mergers to grow their companies, to the detriment of their shareholders' interest.

- Funding fire departments by the number of fire calls made is intended to reward the fire departments that do the most work. However, it may discourage them from fire-prevention activities, which reduce the number of fires.

- In Hanoi, under French colonial rule, a program paying people a bounty for each rat pelt handed in was intended to exterminate rats. Instead it led to the farming of rats.

- In computer security, users are encouraged to use passwords that are difficult for an attacker to guess. However, assigned passwords that are too complicated may be hard to remember, leading users to write them down rather than memorizing them. If this password is kept in an insecure location such as near the user's computer, it is easier for an attacker with physical access to locate this strong password than to try to manually crack a weak password.

- Setting the same minimum punishment for crimes of different severity may increase the incidence of the most serious crimes. For example, the practice of executing thieves may lead to an increase in murders, since the thief has an incentive to kill any witnesses to avoid being convicted - he will not be any the worse off if caught.

- Banning the sale of various recreational drugs may make drug dealers more likely to sell to minors. When it is illegal to sell to minors but legal to sell to adults, drug dealers have an incentive to refuse to sell to children. When all sales are equally punished, selling to minors may be safer for the dealer.

- 19th century palaeontologists traveling to China used to pay peasants for each fragment of dinosaur bone that they produced. They later discovered that peasants would dig up the bones and then smash into multiple pieces to maximise their payments.

- Digital Rights Management schemes are often used to discourage illegal piracy by preventing copying of content, which also has the effect of reducing its utility to paying customers who want to play their purchased material on multiple machines, or make backups. Since pirated content usually does not contain DRM, user who do not want DRM restrictions on their content have a perverse incentive to pirate it. For example, if the publisher attempts to increase revenues by preventing ripping with DRM, it may be easier to pirate the ripped content than buy a disc with DRM, therefore effectively reducing the publisher's revenues.
It should be a required study for any kind of policy maker to understand this phenomenon really well. A great many laws and government programs accomplish approximately the opposite of what they set out to do. Punishing victim-less crimes as much as real crime will increase violent crime. Making recreational drugs illegal will place more harmful drugs into people's hands. Outlawing prositituion places many more women in very precarious situations. Confiscating pictures of child pornography will motivate people to harm new children to produce more. Speed radars make people pay more attention to looking for speed traps than to driving well. Traffic lights sometimes makes traffic flow less well. Large fines for late payments make it less likely for poor people to be able to pay their bills. Etc., etc.
[ | 2007-08-05 23:45 | 3 comments | PermaLink ]  More >

Friday, June 22, 2007day link 

 Elementary magic
picture A simple principle that appears in many forms:

- An purposeful element in a changing environment is more likely to succeed, the more fixed its purpose is, and the more random motion there is in the environment. -

OK, that probably doesn't make it clear, so some examples and metaphors...

Let's say some extremely rare butterfly is looking for a mate. If it is in a very static environment, like your kitchen closet, and there's no other butterfly of that kind of around, it is out of luck. But if you drop it somewhere where thousands or millions of species live, and all of them move around a lot, it is more likely that the right kind of lady butterfly will flutter by. Some wind might help, bringing in specimens from elsewhere, or carrying our amorous butterfly somewhere else where other opportunities might exist. So, more movement helps, more random interactions, more flow, more chaos, even. But only if the butterfly remembers what it is looking for. If it gets confused by all the commotion and starts sniffing pretty flowers instead, it might not fulfill its purpose.

It is in part a matter of the number of possible combinations, of course. You have one item you want to match to another, and statistically speaking, the more random possibilities you bring by, the more likely it is that one of them matches.

But it is more than that. A fixed element will also tend to align and order and command fluid elements around it, under some conditions. The examples would have to get a bit more psychological or metaphysical to make sense out of that.

Let's say the US Immigration service rounds up a bunch of illegal immigrants on the street in L.A., drives them to Mexico and dumps them in a random town. There they are, confused and disoriented, not in control. And in front of the bus stop, there's a big friendly sign that says "Get a job here!", or "Cheap hotel rooms" or "Information" or something. Chances are, they'll probably go there.

Human minds like fixed, calm, coherent, comprehensible, consistent stuff. Simple, normal stuff that makes sense, and that orders the world. So, if you're confused, being thrown around by circumstances outside your control, and somebody offers you a simple solution or a simple answer, you're so much more likely to take it. More likely than if you were already in a well-ordered, stable and understandable situation.

Said a different way, humans are much easier to influence when they're out of balance. You're more likely to change if you're perturbed than if you're comfortable. And that's both good and bad. You're more likely to make a breakthrough towards something better when you're under pressure and everything's on fire. But you're also more likely to adopt a crazy new idea or join a new religion under those circumstances. Much easier to sign you up in a new cult if you're in trouble and somebody tells you that Guru Joe has the answer for you.

It is also a method of hypnotizing somebody. Confuse them with ambiguities or unexpected events, and then give them something to grab on to, a suggestion. That's not necessarily a bad thing. It is a good thing if you were stuck in a situation that didn't work for you, and the suggestion you adopt ends up working better for you.

However, seen from the opposite angle, there's a powerful tool there, for getting what you want in life.

Let's say there's something you very much want, like becoming an astronaut or getting a new car or going on vacation in Bora-Bora. There's still the first part of the principle there. The more people you get in contact with, whom you all tell that you want to go to Bora-Bora, the more likely it is that one of them will have a lead for you that somehow makes it happen. If you talk to five people, probably you aren't going anywhere. If you talk to a million or 100 million , chances are that one of them happens to have a ticket to Bora-Bora on hand which they don't need.

At the same time, if you're very firm and unwavering in your desire to go to Bora-Bora, and you'll proclaim this desire loudly, whenever you have a chance, no matter the occasion, something more will happen. You'll influence your environment in a more active way. You'll be known as the Bora-Bora guy for one thing, and others will talk about you. You're likely to become a sort of reference point for others. You might also influence others to organize around you, or align with you. If you meet some other people who don't know what to do, they might decide that it is more fun and meaningful to want to go to Bora-Bora, and they might join you in your quest. The more the world around you is in random motion without purpose, the more likely it is that chunks of it will align itself with what you're suggesting.

The Law of Attraction kind of thing inevitably will happen. If you focus your mind strongly on your want, and you surround yourself with symbols of what you want, and you talk about it, and you ask for it, and you look for it, and you keep at it, persistently, for a long time - you're very likely to get what you want. You're more likely, the more firm you are in your desire, and the more loudly you present it, and the more conviction you have. You're more likely to get it the more different environments you go through and the more people you meet. And it is both for statistical reasons and it is because you influence your surroundings. Nothing super-natural in that, but it can be quite a magical thing, nevertheless. You set yourself up as a strange attractor that chaos can order itself around.

You'll know other variations of it, I'm sure. Like:

"Luck is when preparedness meets opportunity"

You know, if you want good pictures, and you keep a camera in your pocket, and the right opportunity comes along, you take it out and get a great shot. It is luck, but then again, it isn't.

It's an elementary recipe for magic. There are two parts of the world, the internal part (of you), your thoughts, desires, emotions and immediate actions, which you can control, with a little practice. And theres the external part, the big wide world around you, which you don't control and which is in constant motion. If you fix an objective in your mind, if you desire it, feel it, and act accordingly, and you then expose yourself to as many different experiences as possible in life, exposing yourself to lots of people, lots of situations, lots of opportunities for furthering your desire, some of them will inevitably work out. Sometimes in direct ways, sometimes in indirect ways. But one way or another, the simple fact that you keep your desire alive and consistent will both align the rest of the world around it and bring opportunities to you.
[ | 2007-06-22 22:18 | 7 comments | PermaLink ]  More >

Wednesday, March 21, 2007day link 

 Cymatics and group formation
picture Cymatics is the study of wave phenomena. More specifically, the word is used to describe the production of physical patterns by making sound waves interact with a medium. You put some sand or powder on a surface, and make the surface vibrate with a certain frequency and wave form, and the material organizes itself into interesting patterns, like mandalas. Swiss scientist Hans Jenny studied that a lot, and coined the word cymatics for it.

See youtube videos here, here, here or here. Some of them create stationary patterns, others, like #3, create a continuous flow.

Now Max Sandor suggests that this would somehow apply to the study of how groups form and how they behave, and I think I agree.
A group behaviour follows the same pattern as an acoustic resonance on loose particles (cymatics).

1. Formative stages:
formation of a new group out of individual cells that splits in various smaller groups before being 'eaten' by a central organization, except for a renegade colony.

2. It can be shown that even without a modulation (change) of frequency of the group energy, there is a dynamic flux of group members in and out the group and a cross-fertilization (often destructive) of competing sub-groups which were formed from a central group, in turn formed out of a chaos.
But, now, those patterns are completely different depending on what the frequency is, and what the wave form is. Some produce nothing useful, and some produce amazingly intricate and beautiful patterns. Likewise, if you put a bunch of people together, sometimes nothing useful happens, and sometimes amazing synergies emerge. Understanding the keys would be very useful.

What would be the equivalent of the sound wave for a group of people? I'm not sure. Obviously a group has a certain vibe, particularly a well functioning group. There's some kind of resonance thing going on. A good group will continue in a stable pattern, even when members leave and new ones arrive. Some groups would keep being the same group even if you replaced all the members. So, something is holding it together, and it isn't unreasonable to describe that as a wave of some kind. Except for that we can't hear it, so we seem to have no good way of knowing what kind of frequency or wave form, and how it really is created and sustained.

But one could maybe reverse-engineer it a bit. Look at well-functioning groups, and try to establish what the pattern is. What kind of regions of activity do we see, and what is connecting them? Is there a central element, or a certain symmetry? Are the elements staying put, or cycling around in a certain way? And then maybe drawing some conclusions about what kind of vibe must be at work for that to happen.

If it were well understood, it might well be found that it is relatively small things that change the vibe. If you perform a symphony, and somebody drops a stack of plates in one of the quiet parts, that sort of colors the whole thing. But if you did it in one of the louder crescendo parts, it wouldn't make much difference. Or, you might have heard of the "broken window syndrome". If there's neighborhood with just one broken window in one building, or one abandoned car, or something like that, the whole area is likely to end up as a run down, "bad" neighborhood. Because, somehow, people sub-consciously pick up the vibe, "Oh, this is the kind of place this is", and act accordingly, and it is contageous. In some French metro stations they play classical music over the speakers, and they spread a light perfumed scent everywhere. Because they've found that it drastically reduces crime and littering. Doesn't take much.

In looking around for stuff on Hans Jenny, I also ran into this little article, from an Occult Design blog. See, this kind of thing with waves and patterns would be quite a magical thing if one masters it to any extent. Arranging things so that desirable things happen. A sort of feng shui. Move the receptionists desk 3 feet forward, and maybe a different resonance is formed. Would be worthwhile to know.
[ | 2007-03-21 14:20 | 7 comments | PermaLink ]  More >

Thursday, March 15, 2007day link 

 Structural holes
Howard Rheingold on Smart Mobs:
Ronald Burt pointed out the importance of "structural holes" -- those nodes (people) that connect networks. If I know person A and person B and person A and B ought to know each other, but don't, I am occupying a "structural hole" in their intersecting social networks, and making that introduction could create social capital for me as well as them. Substitute "idea" for "person." This is where I live and why I hang out online for no really well-defined purpose. Burt's paper is a 58 page PDF.
Ah, love that. I want to be a better structural hole.
[ | 2007-03-15 01:06 | 1 comment | PermaLink ]  More >

Tuesday, February 27, 2007day link 

picture Leverage is an interesting subject. This is what Wikipedia says it is:
Leverage is a factor by which lever multiplies a force - it is therefore related to mechanical advantage. The useful work done is the energy applied, which is force times distance. Therefore a small force applied over a long distance is the same amount of work as a large force applied over a small distance. The trick is converting the one into the other. The requisite mathematics was developed in the third century B.C. by Archimedes.

The simplest device for creating leverage is the lever. A lever is a stick which rests on a fulcrum near one end. When you push the long end of the stick down a long ways, the short end moves a small distance up with great force. With this device a man can easily lift several times his own weight.

Other common devices that achieve leverage include the wrench, various pulley arrangements, a jack, and hydraulic brakes.
OK, so a mechanical principle for applying a great force, using a smaller force, but multiplied, like by applying it over a longer distance. There's also the financial definition:
In finance, leverage (or gearing) is using given resources in such a way that the potential positive or negative outcome is magnified. It generally refers to borrowing.

Financial leverage takes the form of a loan or other borrowings, the proceeds of which are reinvested with the intent to earn a greater rate of return than the cost of interest. If the firm's return on assets (ROA) is higher than the interest on the loan, then its return on equity (ROE) will be higher than if it did not borrow. On the other hand, if the firm's ROA is lower than the interest rate, then its ROE will be lower than if it did not borrow. Leverage allows greater potential return to the investor than otherwise would have been available. The potential for loss is also greater because if the investment becomes worthless, not only is that money lost, but the loan still needs to be repaid.
OK, so you have some kind of profit giving activity going, and you borrow other people's money to fuel it, and thus get much higher profits. That's actually a quite different principle from the mechanical leverage, because you don't yourself provide all the energy that goes into it, you get somebody else to provide it.

Doing more with less, that's really what we're talking about. How can you get the biggest possible result with the least possible investment of energy and resources. Ideally, the biggest possible positive result, but not necessarily.

It is obviously a key principle in business and economics. If you've managed to become rich, it is obviously because you've found some mechanism which will give you the biggest possible return while you're putting the most minimal amount of energy into it. There are certainly both positive and negative things to say about that. The greatest success in that regard would be if lots of people pay you enormous amounts of money for nothing. And if there's any work involved, the greatest success is if other people than yourself are doing it. And if there's any risk involved, very best if somebody else than you is taking it.

But the pure principle is a good thing, of course. Why wouldn't we want the most positive result possible, and why wouldn't we want it in the easiest and fastest possible way?

There's nothing particularly noble about doing a lot of hard work that gives very little result. Yet quite possibly most people live their lives like that. You go to school every day for 12 years, and forget most of what you learned. You go to work every day for 45 years, and do what you're expected to do. But what value have you really added to the world? Is it really the best use of your energy? Why not work less hard, but accomplish more, creating more real value? Why not do the very most with what you have?

So, how do you do that?

There's the financial leverage trick there. Borrow other people's money and do something with it that brings in more than it costs to borrow it. And there's the general business owner approach. Hire a bunch of people to do the work, and pay them less than it is worth. All of that of course requires that you have some kind of idea that works, i.e. that somebody pays money for whatever is produced. Although, if you distribute the risk to somebody else than yourself, you might get away with living nicely for some years off of borrowed money, despite producing nothing.

One approach to increased leverage is to develop a more narrow and directed focus. I.e. if you manage to do more precisely what you're aiming at doing, and which is valuable. A lightbulb produces light, but it also produces a lot of heat, so it isn't very efficient. We don't need the heat. So, if you invent a lightbulb that produces more light and less heat, you'll be getting more bang for the buck.

You'd be doing the same if you made a company more efficient. If you produce a certain kinds of widgets, and you have two people making the widgets, and 8 people doing office work, you might of course find how to reorganize things so that you have 8 people doing widgets, and 2 doing office work, and you're producing more with less.

Another way is to find synergies. Synergy is when you put some things together in a way that fits, so that the result is more than the sum of its parts. That could for example be that the waste products of one activity becomes the raw materials for another activity. It could be placing an activity that uses a lot of water in a place where there actually is a lot of water. It would be placing an activity that needs sunlight in a place that has lots of sun. Or, between people, it would be finding out that there are others who do things that fit very nicely with what you do, and you can establish a win-win relationship by cooperating with one another.

You can share information and avoid re-inventing the wheel several times. Lots of problems have already been solved, and if the information about how to solve them isn't secret, or isn't protected by unnecessary intellectual property rules, everybody can do more with less.

Open source software is of course an excellent example. Instead of keeping your solutions secret, you share them with anybody who's interested, and others might both use the same solutions, and they might improve upon them.

And there's the principle of going with the flow, using the existing circumstances and the existing momentum to get where you want to go. If you're in a sailboat and you want to go west, the best time to do so is probably when the wind blows west. If you're a surfer, you'll be going places if you watch for the right wave and you catch it when it is there.

I'm most interested in leverage in a human context. How can one person or a small number of people have the biggest possible positive effect in the world?

They can do so in part with ideas. Ideas are very portable and takes little energy to produce and distribute.

They can do so by being in the right place at the right time, noticing exactly in which direction the wind is blowing, and by catching the wave when it is there.

They can do so by inventing products or systems or memes that are what people want, and what they find exiting, but which they maybe didn't expect. If you come up with something that is cool and useful, which anybody can take away with them right away, you might find millions of people working for your cause very quickly.

Basically it is just very worthwhile to choose one's activities based on how much positive value you can create with them. Very few people do. But most remarkable people you can think of have done just that. Instead of just doing like everybody else, they've somehow come upon ways of creating much larger effects with the same efforts as everybody else. They don't have more hours in the day than you do, and they might even work less than you do. But they've applied their efforts in places where they would get more results, to do things that were more needed or wanted, in ways that were more efficient and productive. And in most cases they've done something that inspired or activated or coordinated the activities of large numbers of people. Even if they seem to do what they do alone. A top tennis player wouldn't be a famous and wealthy top tennis player unless he did something that millions of people would take time to sit and watch. No manufacturer of products would get anywhere unless large numbers of people felt like buying his products. No public leader of any kind would get anywhere unless large numbers of people went along with their program.

The interesting kind of leverage is basically just an idea that manages to find a resonance with great numbers of people. It might be an image or a product or a philosophy or a way of doing things, but it is always something, more or less mysterious, that finds and activates a synchronization or a synergy of some kind, between the originator and many other people, or between the originator and the universe.
[ | 2007-02-27 23:50 | 9 comments | PermaLink ]  More >

Saturday, February 24, 2007day link 

Wikipatterns is a Wiki collecting patterns of practices for how to launch a successful Wiki. And anti-patterns for how not to do it. Much of which could apply to other kinds of activities or sites than wikis. Here's the Barn Raising pattern:
A wiki BarnRaising is a planned event in which a community meets at a designated time to build content on the wiki together. One person alone can't build all the content in a wiki, and a community of people needs to understand how to use the wiki, and feel a sense of buy-in for it to become successful. A BarnRaising achieves this because people come expecting to learn how to use the wiki, and they are able to interact with each other as they work, thus strengthening community bonds and creating a support network that keeps people using the wiki... BarnRaising is a great way to jumpstart a wiki. It gets people used to using the wiki, and gets a critical mass of content on it so people keep coming back.

[ | 2007-02-24 14:13 | 5 comments | PermaLink ]  More >

Thursday, February 15, 2007day link 

picture A.Sorel pointed me to his new TOE (Theory of Everything), Flucidity. I must admit, I wouldn't mind myself coming up with a simple theory that somehow explains phenomena in a great many fields, but I haven't succeeded. Sorel is not a physicist, but he goes in some detail explaining how his theory covers physics as well as economics, personal success, and just about anything else. Despite a couple of attempts, I just don't get the physics part, but looking around on the net, I notice that he gets a relatively promising welcome in physics forums. But as a life tool, I can certainly evaluate it, and it checks out quite well. It is represented in this little diagram there, with these components:

Representationexamples of representation include: names, symbols, dates, photos, models, souveniers and keepsakes, portfolio assets, people

This element signifies your intent and attracts potential energy. It is the primary expression of potential energy.

Without representation, there is no potential energy.
Potential Energyexamples of potential energy include: trust, emotions, fuel or energy, capital, incentives, or anything used for its capacity or space

This element is a representation without structure and one that does not interact.
Measurement and Structureexamples include: definitions, rules, guidelines, hierarchy, structure, reasoning, framework, linear order, particles

This element clarifies your intent and focuses potential energy.
Interaction and Associationexamples include: conversation, sitting, playing, being in a relationship, competing, walking, chaos, waves, gravity, perception & consciousness

This element is the way in which potential energy is expressed. Interaction is caused by more massive energies attracting less massive energies, while less massive energies are repelling the more massive energies.

This approach brings to mind the Law of Attraction, but this is more structured. Let's say there's something you'd like to happen, like, you want to live in a certain type of house. You'd start by making or finding a representation of it, which could be a drawing of it, or a photo, or a magazine. Then you create some structure around it, like, for example, you set up a game for yourself, of going to the kind of neighborhood you'd like to live in once per week, and you set up some rules, which might be completely arbitrary, like that you'll talk with exactly 3 different people in that neighborhood when you go visiting. That sets the stage for interactions, obviously. And all of that creates potential energy, building up some kind of momentum in the direction of your goal. It might bring you closer, and you end up in a new situation, where you might choose a new (better) representation, and go from there, in the same manner.

That works, and that's a pretty neat way of structuring it. Picking a representation of what one desires is a well-known tool. Putting a picture of your dream house on your refrigerator door, etc. But putting some structure and some rules around it quickly makes it more real. It has the advantage that one can make it arbitrarily easy, so one doesn't have to get lost in the great difficulty in doing what one wants. One does something more simple around the representation, which creates progress, but which also distracts from worrying about obstacles. The representation and the rules set up a potential. Inevitably one will interact with someone or something in carrying them out, which leads to new opportunities, which only can get one closer to one's aim.

So, A+ as a tool for materializing what one wants. Beyond that it makes my head spin if I try to grasp how that applies to physics, or how I can predict anything tangible with it. So, I'll leave it at that for now.
[ | 2007-02-15 14:31 | 7 comments | PermaLink ]  More >

Tuesday, January 23, 2007day link 

 Lowered expectations
picture If one has trouble getting everything done that one thinks one ought to get done, one possibility is always that one could lower one's expectations and go for less.

I have trouble with that myself, which is why I mention it. I tend towards being a perfectionist, but that sometimes means that I'll try to do something that is too ambitious, and to do it all myself, without noticing I don't have time. And then maybe I'll end up not really finishing the project I had in mind. Which is not good for one's self-confidence, and a bit of a waste of time.

Whereas, if one downscales one's expectations, one might be more likely to fulfill them, actually delivering a good product, feeling good about that, and having time left over.

Something that is finished in time and that is useful, even if in modest ways, is often more valuable than something that would have been fantastic, but which was a year late, or which never actually happened.

There's also the 80/20 principle. If you have a project to do, do the easiest 80% first and get it out the door. Quite possibly if will be sufficient. If the remaining 20% turn out to be needed, do the easiest 80% of that and get it out the door. There are a lot of things that are hard or time-consuming to do, which might not really be needed.

One of my jobs is being a programmer. Like most programmers I'm an optimist, so I think things can be done much faster than they really can. I really need a business manager who triples all my estimates of anything, without telling me. That's about the ratio of it. Things usually take 2.5 times as long as I imagined, so that would leave time to finish early and make a profit.

You make different decisions if you add more constraints or you lower the expectation of what can be accomplished, and that is sometimes good. If I need some piece of software next month, I might foolishly start programming it myself from scratch, without checking out if anything like it exists, and without properly estimating the work involved. If I know I need it tomorrow, I'd recognize that it isn't possible, and I might find something close enough on the net and install it and be done in a couple of hours. And I'd save a lot of time and headaches.

One of my other professions is being a therapist. I've seen a lot of clients who were depressed because they were too ambitious. You have a burning desire to be a millionaire, win an academy award, or play major league baseball? That's great. But if you expect it to happen tomorrow, and you look at your life today, and you notice that you're nowhere near close, you might decide you've failed. Which is silly, of course, but a very human thing to do. The way of getting there is to place a realistic target in the future, and work backwards from there, seeing what you'd need to do before, and before that, etc. And you might end up with that tomorrow it would be a good idea to buy a book in the bookstore, or to make a phone call, as a first step towards going where you want to go. And when you've done that, you might actually be happy that you've taken a step towards your dream. Lowered expectations in the short term might be a way of actually arriving where you want to go, rather than giving up.

And then there's the subject of failure. If you plan for always succeeding, you can be pretty sure you'll get disappointed. And if you drop your plan the moment you fail at something, even worse. As has been repeated many times about famous people who've succeeded at something great, they've usually tried and failed many times before getting there. You know, Edison and the light bulb. Thousands of attempts before he got one to work.

So, you might as well plan for failure. Visualize that you're probably going to fail in some of the things you're doing, but that you'll continue towards where you want to go. Then there's nothing to be depressed about when you fail. Just one of the steps in the plan. Nothing to worry about.

There are some key nuances there. Don't get me wrong. You wouldn't visualize failure as your ultimate destination. You'd be prepared for failing a few times on the way there. Likewise, don't lower your goals in life to something small and safe. Aim high and stay the course. But lower your expectation of how much you'll accomplish at a time, or how good a response you'll get to it, or how well different plans will work. Be prepared that everything might be several times more complicated and difficult than you imagine, but do it anyway.

And then you might discover that you actually arrive ahead of time, without being out of breath.
[ | 2007-01-23 14:44 | 1 comment | PermaLink ]  More >

Saturday, January 20, 2007day link 

 Learning to see
picture A number of years ago I was seeing a vision consultant regularly. I didn't know there were such a thing, but I was wearing glasses, and I didn't really like that I had to, so the idea appealed to me. Gloria Ginn was her name. Her methods was to a large degree based on the Bates Method.

My eye sight improved a great deal, and I basically haven't worn glasses since then, except for when driving or for watching TV or something like that. I didn't really keep up the exercises, so I'm somewhat in-between at this point, not having normal vision, but not feeling like wearing glasses. I've mentioned this before, but what I wanted to talk about is also the most interesting philosophical implications of these kinds of exercise.

Basically the idea is that if you have bad eyesight, most often it is not a matter of a physical defect, but, rather, it is a matter of bad mental habits. There are certain things one does when one has perfect eyesight which are more mental than physical.

The biggest thing one starts doing wrong is to focus too much and too long on too many things. One gets used to having a fixed focus, and one drops out everything else. Sitting in front of a computer at a fixed distance staring at little letters certainly doesn't help.

If one sees well, one sees the periphery. One is always aware of the periphery. And if one looks at something, it would more be a matter of letting one's attention drift towards it within the bigger picture that includes the periphery.

A continuous awareness of periphery means that you see what is going on. If you get stuck in points, you lose something. You get more stressed and fixed.

A philosophical thought here:

"You're in the periphery, not in the focus"

Yet our busy society tends to keep us occupied with focusing on lots of little important things all the time. You might not notice the forest if you're only dealing with a tree. A datum without context is not worth much.

Re-developing your sense of periphery, in thought and in vision, makes you more calm and relaxed and attentive.

The other problem with fixed focus is also that it is fixed and doesn't move. Natural eye sight moves all the time. Even when looking at one thing, the eyes of somebody with natural eye sight will continously scan back and forth over what you're looking at. You might be unconscious of that, but it is easy to observe on others. The eyes do little micro-movements, even if you're looking at something as small as one letter.

If somebody with natural eye sight shifts their eyes from one point to another, their eyes will sweep in a continous movement from one point to the other, seeing everything in-between. Somebody with bad eye sight will just flip from point A to point B without a sense of what happened in between. And if they try to sweep their eyes continously, they might get dizzy, or they might discover they can't. Somebody else observing you would notice that you just do several quick jumps, rather than a continous motion.

We might learn something like:

"The world is analog, not digital"

or, we could say that the world is in continous shades, rather than black and white. Not point A or point B, but a rainbow of continous steps in-between.

One can re-train that by looking at stuff while moving. There are many ways of doing that, like swinging one's head to side to side, or letting one's eye scan back and forth over something.

"Everything is continously in motion"

You might think of most things around you as stationary, static objects, and you don't notice at all that they move. That's entirely a mental trick. If somebody's standing at the other end of the room, their body is very small. If they walk towards you, their body gets bigger and bigger along the way. You hadn't noticed?

If you're standing in one place and you move just a few centimeters to the side, the perspective of everything in the room changes. It is kind of futile to think of the bookcase as some kind of theoretical static blueprint in your mind, because that's not what you see. You see lines and shades and shadows. And if you move a little bit, what you see will change. If you don't notice that, you're not really seeing.

A trick for practicing that is to pretend that you're standing still, even when you're in motion, and then imagine that it is everything else that is moving. Say you're driving a car. Imagine that what you're watching is a virtual reality display. The roadway is coming towards you. It is narrow far away and gets wider as it comes towards you. The lines in the road are doing that too, getting bigger as they get closer. Buildings and trees on the side of the road are smaller further away, and gets bigger as they get closer. And their perspective changes. If you drive by a tree with branches, or a light pole with a lamp, it will twist around itself as you pass it.

"You are still. The world is moving."

That's kind of deep. Maybe that's true. Instead of flickering around to and fro, how about I consider myself to be permanently stationary, right here in the middle of the universe, and everything else is moving around me?

Here's another trick: Try to see from behind your eyes. Like, from the back of your head, which is actually the location of the vision center in the brain. If you have attention on your eyes, you probably are straining them. If you can relax your eyes, but concentrate on what you actually are seeing, you'll see better, without effort.

The basic thing is to just pay attention. We're so used to replace what we actually are seeing with a mental shortcut. You think you've seen that wall a thousand times, so when you look at it your mind does something equivalent to replacing it with a label that says "wall". There's a wealth of perceptual information available from even the most boring wall. Perspective, patterns, coloring, shades. There are millions of points there, all a little different from one another. And it all changes if you move just a little bit. And it is different at different times, depending on the time of the day, the light conditions that day, etc.

"Pay attention!"

We're mis-using our minds. Abstract thinking can be a great thing. But it also gets used for replacing our richly detailed, constantly changing environment with little fixed simplified snapshots. And then we just see the snapshots, forgetting that they aren't the real thing. And then we wonder why we don't see so well. And then we use the same snapshots for thinking and for making decisions, wondering why we don't make good decisions. Because we aren't dealing with the world in front of us, that's why.

But your mind is necessary the other way too. In general, you can't see more than you can imagine. Paying attention to what is there, and being able to imagine what is there are kind of two sides of a similar phenomenon.

"You can only see what you can imagine"

If your mental picture is fuzzy, what you see with your eyes is likely to be fuzzy too. If you can't imagine seeing something sharply, you probably can't see it clearly with your eyes either. If there are no nuances in what you see in your minds eye, if it is just a clumsy cartoon, you probably don't see much better. There's a continous interaction between what you can imagine to see and what you see.

"There's always more there"

If you're actually seeing, there's always more you can see. Look at a tree. It isn't just "a tree". There are millions upon millions of things to say about it. There's no end to how well you can observe it. It is continously in motion, it has thousands of parts, many different shades, interesting patterns, perspectives, etc.

Doesn't mean you have to sit and stare at the tree all day. It goes for anything. You can always go deeper. You can always see more, if you actually are seeing. If you think you're all done after one glance, you probably just glanced at a fixed mental image. So, if you're stuck, look further.

Natural sight, just as natural thought, is fluid, always in motion. Everything it sees is unique and different, but at the same time continously connected with everything else. Everything is found within a bigger picture. In the bigger picture there might be parts you focus on and much more that is in the periphery. Most of the world is in the periphery. There's an infinity of things to see. To see them, you need to be ready to see them, and to look for them. Seeing, as thinking, is something you do, a skill, something that comes from inside, rather than something you receive from the outside.

You see?
[ | 2007-01-20 16:09 | 7 comments | PermaLink ]  More >

Wednesday, January 10, 2007day link 

 The Dumbness of Crowds
picture Very nice article at Passionate about when crowds become smart and when they become dumb.
"Collective intelligence" is a pile of people writing Amazon book reviews.

"Dumbness of Crowds" is a pile of people collaborating on a wiki to collectively author a book...

"Collective Intelligence" is all the photos on Flickr, taken by individuals on their own, and the new ideas created from that pool of photos (and the API).

"Dumbness of Crowds" is expecting a group of people to create and edit a photo together.

"Collective Intelligence" is about getting input and ideas from many different people and perspectives.

"Dumbness of Crowds" is blindly averaging the input of many different people, and expecting a breakthrough.
(It's not always the averaging that's the problem it's the blindly part)

"Collective Intelligence" is about the community on Threadless, voting and discussing t-shirts designed by individuals.

"Dumbness of Crowds" would be expecting the Threadless community to actually design the t-shirts together as a group.

Art isn't made by committee.

Great design isn't made by consensus.

True wisdom isn't captured from a crowd.
And the main point here:
It's the sharp edges, gaps, and differences in individual knowledge that make the wisdom of crowds work, yet the trendy (and misinterpreted) vision of Web 2.0 is just the opposite--get us all collaborating and communicating and conversing all together as one big happy collaborating, communicating, conversing thing until our individual differences become superficial.
I agree. A crowd can become smart mainly because it is a collection of individuals, who're different, who have different knowledge, different resources, different viewpoints, and somehow a synergy emerges in what they do. Their different pieces complement each other, and something bigger becomes possible. It isn't that there's any great wisdom in averaging what a lot of people think. A vote by majority is pretty dumb. Lots of people applying their unique skills to working together - that can be really big.
[ | 2007-01-10 20:15 | 3 comments | PermaLink ]  More >

Monday, January 8, 2007day link 

 Divergence and Convergence
picture Group activities can be divergent or convergent.

Like, say, a meeting. One might have a divergent meeting or a convergent meeting.

A brainstorming session is divergent. It goes off into many directions, but might be starting at a central point. One throws out all sorts of crazy ideas, and later one might find that some of them are great, even though lots of them aren't. And that's the point. Maybe one starts by being at a stuck point, having some kind of problems, an impasse, and one is seeking renewal. But the brainstorming session itself might not actually change things. It merely is an act of creativity, putting out as many ideas as possible, as quickly as possible, no matter what direction they go in.

If one has something specific to accomplish, one needs a convergent activity. I.e. it needs to end up at a decision, a solution, or an agreement. That could consist of examining various alternatives, excluding the ones that won't work, and ending up with fewer. It might be to invite opinions on pros and cons, and maybe ending with a consensus. Or maybe a vote, and choosing a particular avenue to follow. Or it might be hammering out a particular plan, step by step. One way or another, the desired outcome is that there's one clear direction to follow.

One probably doesn't come up with revolutionary new ideas if one is having a meeting based on a convergent model. And on the other hand, one probably doesn't end up with an action plan if one engages in a divergent activity like brainstorming.

One can very well sequence several distinct activities, and have phases that are either convergent or divergent. For example, in Getting Things Done, David Allen describes what he calls the "Natural Planning Model", which has these five steps:

1. Defining purpose and principles
2. Outcome visioning
3. Brainstorming
4. Organizing
5. Identifying next actions

So, if you have something to plan, there's probably an intention and a purpose behind it. Something that drives you to get together for that purpose. The Why. And usually there are some guiding principles already in existence.

Then you'd visualize what you'd like to accomplish. The What. If you do what you want to do, what would it look like and feel like?

After that comes brainstorming. Everybody comes up with ideas, information, problems, scenarios, pieces of the puzzle, wild dreams, etc.

Then you organize what you've got. If you've got enough details and enough ideas, you work out some sense in them, sort them, discard stuff, set priorities, etc.

Finally you decide what's next. How do you proceed? What do you do first? Is there a next meeting?

3 is obviously a divergent activity. We could probably say that 2 is too, as it starts with a purpose and visualizes something based on that. 1, 4 and 5 would be convergent. And after the plan is done, what comes after might well be considered divergent, as one starts with the agreed plan, and goes off in different directions to do each one's part.

So, an effective way of working something out is quite likely to be a proper sequence of converging and diverging activities. Breathe in, breathe out, wax on, wax off.

There would naturally be a bunch of anti-patterns to match a model like the one given. I.e. bad ways of planning something. Like, starting with good ideas before one has agreed on what the purpose of the activity is. Or starting to write the plan without having assembled the available information and ideas. Or taking action and just working harder without having done any of this.

Different tools and different environments might lend themselves more or less well to divergent or convergent activities. A brainstorming session can work well if everybody can get busy at the same time, yelling out ideas, or scribling them on post-it notes and putting them on the wall. But if only one person at a time could be in action, and he had to get up in front of the room, it might flow less well.

Same thing with software tools. A blog is great for putting out anything one feels like writing about, but it doesn't end up being any particularly neat result. It isn't a convergent tool. A wiki would be better for that, where one could write and re-write, and somebody else might come along and correct something, or clarify something. But a wiki is also divergent, as one can easily go off into different directions, without having any mechanism for getting it summarized into a result. There are actually rather few software tools that inspire convergence. Most programs you use give you plenty of ways of being distracted and going off on tangents. Web-pages, e-mails, instant messages, all of them give you plenty of material for jumping off into totally different directions, and there's no obvious end-point anywhere. Automated tools might come along later and provide some points of convergence, like showing us what are the most popular subjects of the day. But there's a bit of a lack of tools for helping groups converge on action plans.

The pro of divergence is that it brings out new information and might get you out of what you're stuck in. The con is that it might distract you from what you ought to already be doing.

The pro of convergence is to focus on getting a result. The con is that it might be the wrong result and one doesn't have the elements one needs to make it happen.
[ | 2007-01-08 14:07 | 6 comments | PermaLink ]  More >

Friday, January 5, 2007day link 

 Creating passionate users: cognitive seduction
picture From Headrush, an article about how to create User Experience Pleasures. In games and in software interfaces it might be useful to aim for a certain "cognitive arousal" or "experiential pleasure". You know, like the pleasure that comes from solving a good puzzle. Doesn't necessarily have anything to do with sex, but it does have something to do with inspiring a certain experience of pleasure. So, here's a Typology of Cognitive Pleasures:
1. Discovery
User experience as exploration of new territory

2. Challenge
User experience as obstacles to overcome, goals lying just beyond current skill and knowledge levels

3. Narrative
User experience as story arc (user on hero's journey) and character identification

4. Self-expression
User experience as self-discovery and creativity

5. Social framework
User experience as an opportunity for interaction/fellowship with others

6. Cognitive Arousal
User experience as brain teaser

7. Thrill
User experience as risk-taking with a safety net

8. Sensation
User experience as sensory stimulation

9. Triumph
User experience as opportunity to kick ass

10. Flow
User experience as opportunity for complete concentration, extreme focus, lack of self-awareness

11. Accomplishment
User experience as opportunity for productivity and success

12. Fantasy
User experience as alternate reality

13. Learning
User experience as opportunity for growth and improvement
Ah, please, give me more passionate user experiences! I want to be seduced.
[ | 2007-01-05 19:58 | 2 comments | PermaLink ]  More >

Thursday, January 4, 2007day link 

picture I like patterns. Wikipedia says this:
A pattern is a form, template, or model (or, more abstractly, a set of rules) which can be used to make or to generate things or parts of a thing, especially if the things that are generated have enough in common for the underlying pattern to be inferred or discerned, in which case the things are said to exhibit the pattern.
What I particularly like is patterns in the sense used in pattern languages.
A Pattern Language is a structured method of describing good design practices within a particular domain. It is characterized by

1. Noticing and naming the common problems in a field of interest,
2. Describing the key characteristics of effective solutions for meeting some stated goal,
3. Helping the designer move from problem to problem in a logical way, and
4. Allowing for many different paths through the design process.

Pattern languages are used to formalize decision-making values whose effectiveness becomes obvious with experience but that are difficult to document and pass on to novices. They are also effective tools in structuring knowledge and understanding of fundamentally complex systems without forcing oversimplification -- including organizing people or groups involved in complex undertakings, revealing how their functions inter-relate as part of the larger whole.
Pattern Language is a term that was coined by Christopher Alexander. He is an architect who wrote a famous book called A Pattern Language, which presented a lot of design patterns for building towns or buildings. He said this, for example:
There is one timeless way of building. It is a thousand years old, and the same today as it has ever been. The great traditional buildings of the past, the villages and tents and temples in which man feels at home, have always been made by people who were very close to the center of this way. It is not possible to make great buildings, or great towns, beautiful places, places where you feel yourself, places where you feel alive, except by following this way. And, as you will see, this way will lead anyone who looks for it to buildings which are themselves as ancient in their form, as the trees and hills, and as our faces are."
What is unique is that he isn't presenting the construction techniques or even the actual design techniques, but general patterns for making places that are nice to be in. Like, places for more intimate meetings need to be placed away from the places one just passes through. That's intuitively obvious, of course, but that is the point. To express in words a model of how to do something well, but presenting it somewhat abstractly, so it can be applied in many different contexts.

The idea of pattern languages have been adopted by programmers, often called design patterns, for expressing design principles for constructing software. For example, one can make a software piece that is a 'factory method' that produces other objects. That's a pattern.

One can also talk about anti-patterns, which again particularly is used in software. But, generally speaking, it is commonly used solutions that are bad. If one can recognize the bad design patterns, one can avoid falling into the trap of using them.

Despite being a programmer, the kind of patterns that interest me more than software design patterns is patterns for doing more human stuff, like how to solve problems more generally, or how groups can work well and be productive, and express collective intelligence rather than collective stupidity.

Sometimes the word uplift pattern is used for that. Patterns for generating a positive outcome of some kind in human relations.

We could even say that the idea of using a pattern is a pattern. A meta-pattern, maybe, but that gets a little too abstract. Using a pattern as a pattern goes somewhat like this:

- You find yourself in some situation where you either have a problem, or you're trying to ensure the most positive outcome you can.

- You look for a pattern that somebody has described which seems to fit your situation.

- You apply the pattern to the situation.

Yeah, yeah, that's obvious, of course. But not as obvious as it might seem. A great many people find themselves in situations that they'd really like to make better, but they don't recognize that there might be a pattern that fits it, so they don't bother to look for one, but just sort of muddle through it, making random uncoordinated decisions. If you're not conscious of what pattern you're following, you might be operating without a map.
[ | 2007-01-04 16:15 | 0 comments | PermaLink ]

Thursday, December 7, 2006day link 

 Stages of group development
In 1965 educational psychologist Bruce W Tuckman described 4 stages of group development. The stages are essentially the result of the study of various kinds of small groups in different environments, noticing that they seem to go through certain distinct phases. Which we could say is important in trying to figure out how a group of people might become a community or a team. These are Tuckman's stages:
Stage 1: Forming

Individual behaviour is driven by a desire to be accepted by the others, and avoid controversy or conflict. Serious issues and feelings are avoided, and people focus on being busy with routines, such as team organisation, who does what, when to meet, etc. But individuals are also gathering information and impressions - about each other, and about the scope of the task and how to approach it. This is a comfortable stage to be in, but the avoidance of conflict and threat means that not much actually gets done.

Stage 2: Storming

Individuals in the group can only remain nice to each other for so long, as important issues start to be addressed. Some people's patience will break early, and minor confrontations will arise that are quickly dealt with or glossed over. These may relate to the work of the group itself, or to roles and responsibilities within the group. Some will observe that it's good to be getting into the real issues, whilst others will wish to remain in the comfort and security of stage 1. Depending on the culture of the organisation and individuals, the conflict will be more or less suppressed, but it'll be there, under the surface. To deal with the conflict, individuals may feel they are winning or losing battles, and will look for structural clarity and rules to prevent the conflict persisting.

Stage 3: Norming

As Stage 2 evolves, the "rules of engagement" for the group become established, and the scope of the group's tasks or responsibilities are clear and agreed. Having had their arguments, they now understand each other better, and can appreciate each other's skills and experience. Individuals listen to each other, appreciate and support each other, and are prepared to change pre-conceived views: they feel they're part of a cohesive, effective group. However, individuals have had to work hard to attain this stage, and may resist any pressure to change - especially from the outside - for fear that the group will break up, or revert to a storm.

Stage 4: Performing

Not all groups reach this stage, characterised by a state of interdependence and flexibility. Everyone knows each other well enough to be able to work together, and trusts each other enough to allow independent activity. Roles and responsibilities change according to need in an almost seamless way. Group identity, loyalty and morale are all high, and everyone is equally task-orientated and people-orientated. This high degree of comfort means that all the energy of the group can be directed towards the task(s) in hand.
I've certainly noticed these steps in action. Is it the only way it can happen? I'm not sure. And even though one can outline stages, it is not a given that one will know how to get from one to the other. But identifying where one is at can be a step forward in itself.

In 1977 Tuckman refined his model and added one more step:
Stage 5: Adjourning

This is about completion and disengagement, both from the tasks and the group members. Individuals will be proud of having achieved much and glad to have been part of such an enjoyable group. They need to recognise what they've done, and consciously move on. Some authors describe stage 5 as "Deforming and Mourning", recognising the sense of loss felt by group members.

Hm, interesting to put that as a stage. It is right of course. Sometimes one's membership of a group doesn't totally fall into place before the group members more or less have moved on to something else.

There are lots of versions of Tuckman's model on the net. This one is from here.
[ | 2006-12-07 21:07 | 16 comments | PermaLink ]  More >

Monday, December 4, 2006day link 

Granularity for students, by Michael Leddy, gives some good advice on breaking things down.
People who think about hacking their lives and their work often speak of “granularity.” It’s a curious word. The online Oxford English Dictionary offers only “granular condition or quality” as a definition. A more helpful definition comes from the National Center for Supercomputing Applications: “The extent to which a larger entity is subdivided. For example, a yard broken into inches has finer granularity than a yard broken into feet.” To think of tasks and challenges in terms of granularity is to think in terms of breaking them down into smaller and more manageable parts.

Granularity is a tremendously useful strategy for students. The typical spiral-bound student-planner doesn’t seem to encourage it; that tool is often little more than a place to store due dates: “research paper due.” But no one can just write a research paper. That paper can only be the result of numerous small-scale tasks. It’s not surprising that students who think of “write research paper” as one monolithic task are likely to put it off far longer than they ought to. Instead of “write research paper,” one could think of these tasks: go to library to look up sources; organize them by call number; read first three sources and take notes; get article from JSTOR; read remaining three sources and take notes; organize notes on computer; check bibliography format; ask professor about endnote form; make rough outline; and so on. Each of these “granular” tasks is far more do-able than “write research paper.” Thinking of work in terms of granularity can be one way to overcome the overwhelming dread of getting started. And keeping track of such tasks on paper and crossing them off one by one gives the satisfaction making progress and getting closer to done.

A student might also apply the strategy of granularity to the work of writing itself. Instead of writing a draft and “looking it over,” it’s much smarter to break down the work of writing and editing by thinking about one thing at a time. Developing a strong thesis statement: that’s one task. Working out a sequence of paragraphs to develop that thesis: another task. Figuring out how to make a transition from one paragraph to another: another task. If you tend to have patterns of errors in your writing, look for each kind of error, one at a time. Noun-pronoun agreement? Read a draft once through looking only for that. Comma splices? Read once through with your eyes on the commas. It might seem that approaching the work of writing and editing in terms of smaller, separate tasks is unnecessarily cumbersome, but breaking things down will likely make it far easier to work more effectively and come out with a stronger piece of writing. No writer can think about everything at once.

Granularity is also a useful strategy for making even a daunting reading project do-able. If you have eighty pages to read, finish twenty and take a short break; then repeat. If you’re reading James Joyce or Marcel Proust, a handful of pages might be all that you can manage at one sitting, and sometimes you might need to chart your progress by the sentence. But those sentences and pages add up, and I should know. I just finished all seven volumes (3,102 pages) of Proust’s In Search of Lost Time (À la recherche du temps perdu), averaging twenty pages a day over five months and two days of reading.
(Via BoingBoing).

I suppose we can say that one can accomplish just about anything, if one can break it down into small, managable tasks. Many people will fail in doing something big they really could do, simply because they don't break it down into things they can start doing right now. Something big and fuzzy will seem impossible. But often there will be a small thing you can do right now, or today, and another piece tomorrow, and sooner or later you're there.
[ | 2006-12-04 20:38 | 2 comments | PermaLink ]  More >

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