Monday, December 31, 2007

Monkey Mondays: Happy New Year Monkey!

The Knowledge Paradox

When everybody knows that something is so, it means that nobody knows nothin’.
—Andrew S. Grove, Co-founder of Intel

In other words, “it becomes nearly impossible to look beyond what you know and think outside the box you’ve built around yourself.” It is a paradox such that as our collective knowledge increases, such does our expertise, our creativity and innovative ability will tend to plateau or decrease. It is the classic “thinking inside a box,” and the walls thicken with our experience over time.

An essay appearing in the 1989 Journal of Political Economy called this the “curse of knowledge.” Experts in their respective disciplines learn through their daily activities the jargon of their subjects and perform their routine tasks in the ways in which they have always been done. While it is efficient and possesses a concept of utility, it can stifle innovation by taking the path much-taken.

People see the world how they want to see it, since the world revolves around each individual person, through the filters with which they perceive the rest of the world. I’ve written about this before in a few posts. This is why this curse is so pervasive: It can be difficult for people to imagine what the world is like outside their own universe and their own paradigm. As an aside, this is why it can be so difficult to find really, really good trainers and teachers.

Imagine your remote control at home: Anything from your television or stereo remote control to your $1000 remote control. It probably has many more buttons than a reasonable person would need, but they all exist on that remote control because an engineer somewhere in the research, development, or production process determined a use for that button; as described by Chip Heath in a book him and his brother Dan co-wrote in their book Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die. Mr. Heath says of this: People who design products are experts cursed by their knowledge, and they can’t imagine what it’s like to be as ignorant as the rest of us.

How can a person fix this?

Cynthia Barton Rabe proposes bringing in a team of outsiders, “zero-gravity thinkers” in order to add creativity and innovation to the development mix in her book Innovation Killer: How What We Know Limits What We Can Imagine — and What Smart Companies Are Doing About It. I would ask my very, very basic questions,” making mention of the initial frustration, however transient it may be, with this approach, “it always turned out that we could come up with some terrific ideas. She finishes her wisdom with: “Look for people with renaissance-thinker tendencies, who’ve done work in a related area but not in your specific field…Make it possible for someone who doesn’t report directly to that area to come in and say the emperor has no clothes.

When in doubt, seek the perspective of others to forge your own wisdom in this often-chaotic world! However, in the end know that the decision is your own, and the responsibility of that decision is your own to bear, so weigh each perspective with the value with which it is truly worth!

Sunday, December 30, 2007

The Not-So-Conventional Wisdom

Following World War II America went through a period in which the government, or the public sector, was growing poorer in relation to the private sector which was becoming wealthier. This is the outline offered by Harvard economist John Galbraith in his book The Affluent Society. It is also the origin of the term “conventional wisdom.”

We’ve all heard it: Conventional wisdom, rules of thumb, and urban legends. What is the problem with such “wisdom?” Not only is it “easy” wisdom but it also tends not to be true, just accepted by enough people in order for it to seem true. It acts as an obstacle to the truth, to new ideas, and is only fueled by the inertia of so many people believing in such bad information. This inertia is fueled by convenience, emotion, and assumption.

Common sense, on the other hand, is largely practical: Less of the abstract and more of the “collection of prejudices acquired by age eighteen,” according to Albert Einstein. In the same train of thought such practicality can have its limits when it comes to the progression of society: Similarly, common sense has been invoked in opposition to many scientific and technological advancements. Such misuse of the notion of common sense is fallacious, being a form of the argumentum ad populum (appeal to the masses) fallacy.

So, we return to our original premise: If so many people believe in it, it must be true, right? Logic dictates otherwise with a concept known as Argumentum ad populum. Translated from Latin it is “appeal to the people;” placed into a more concise context “if many believe so,” or “if many find it acceptable, then it is (acceptable or so).”

Alright, let’s test it.

It has been reported in the mainstream media that more than 1/3 of Americans believe there was a government conspiracy surrounding the attacks on the World Trade Center in New York City on September 11, 2001. As of 1 July 2007 the population was about 301 million individuals in the United States; 36 percent of 301 million people equals about 108.3 million people. More than 100 million people believe that the U.S. government was complicit—either actively or through negligence—in the horrible attacks of 9/11. Certainly more than 100 million people, statistically, can’t be wrong! Right?

I can’t help but look at the world from the perspective of an economist, believing in some bits of logic. Sociology teaches us that while the person might be intelligent, rational, and calculated, putting many of them together and their behaviors tend to move towards the irrational. Additionally, just because the many believe something…it doesn’t mean that it’s true.

How about looking at it this way: Have you ever voted in an election? Did the person whom you voted for win or lose? Doesn’t matter, because the majority of individuals voted for the person who got into the office; that means that he or she was good in their elected position by virtue of most people voting for them! Politicians are good by virtue of how many people voted for them…right? How about at any certain time when most people think that a particular company whose stock is a good place to invest? History and your favorite Internet finance site can tell you how this is a failed notion.

So, in the end the masses aren’t necessarily correct, conventional wisdom isn’t necessarily wisdom and tends to be more convenient than possessing any utility and your own experiences should be all that draws you towards a more thorough wisdom about the world.

Friday, December 28, 2007

A Look Back: The Science of 2007


Science is arguably the single set of disciplines which propels the human race forward, drives culture, and increases our collective utility. The state of science can also be used to determine, via a snapshot, the state of the human condition; art and other elements of interdisciplinary studies flow from science. Just as this is so, I like to look back at the previous year’s scientific accomplishments.

Top 10 Scientific Breakthroughs, courtesy Wired News

Top 10 Science Breakthroughs of the Year, courtesy Science News

Top 25 Science Stories of 2007, courtesy Scientific American

Craziest Science Stories of 2007, courtesy Live Science

Top 100 Science Stories of 2007, courtesy Discover Magazine

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Now We're Elite!

Now we're elite, or as is the popular vernacular amongst the die-hard Internet community: We're "leet."

The number "1337," as in one thousand three hundred and thirty seven, in "leet speak" dictates "eliteness."

Yeah, we're ending the year becoming "leet."

Keep on visiting and we'll see which mark we can hit next!

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Help Wanted

It’s well-known that we live in the Information Age. Once upon a time it was the power of industry—great pieces of equipment operated by countless laborers working countless hours. As economies of scale developed, so did the assembly line and the furtherance of the manufacturing-based economy. As the industry-based landscape matured, the economy advanced to the point where specialization became increasingly important. As the twentieth century closed we had harnessed the power of the Internet. Combined with all other elements of the day our manufacturing-based society in the United States and other locales converted into an information-based economy.

Industry-based economics seemed to be a stepping stone to where we, in the west, are now; just as other places in the world go through this phase of their development we are shifting away from such and into a paradigm based around information, services, and facilitation. This information-based economy is revolutionizing old models and paradigms and changing the way that the various agents in each component of the economy interact with one another.

For the consumer part of this is that the Internet has had a tendency to democratize everything. eBay, with its online auctions, and Wal-Mart, with its harnessing of technology to make its business processes more efficient have collectively acted as the “invisible hand” of economics and made marketplaces more efficient: There is arguably not much profit to be made from these two businesses short of selling in volume. Wal-Mart posted a net profit margin of 3.6 percent in 2005, down to 3.2 percent in 2007. eBay has epitomized the low- or zero-profit margin on the Internet: In an online sense I firmly believe that eBay is as efficient as a market gets.

Each of us goes through our days selling our time to other people: For most of us that means selling our time for a wage or a salary, and maybe some benefits. Whether that means flipping burgers at the local fast food restaurant or bagging groceries for minimum wage or being a vice president with a bank, you are effectively selling your time to your employer for a price which you and the market will handle. In essence, you are a product which you must develop, market, and sell to employers seeking you and your product. This is simply a new way at looking at an old paradigm, though. I’ll breach that topic at another time. For now, however…

Imagine an extension of the above premise with the basis that you are a product such that you, instead of selling your services to your employer, could sell the services you provide to your employer directly to the customers which you already serve. Cut out the “middle man,” and eliminate inefficiencies at that level. Instead of being tied down to the policies, protocols, bureaucracies, and whatever else you don’t like about the time which you’re selling to your employer, you would be your own boss. You would be in control of your own destiny in the marketplace. You wouldn’t have to worry about performance reviews or a supervisor validating you: The marketplace which you serve would instead be the entity which validates your abilities and efforts.

There are a few, however, which can’t fit into this model. This does not mean, however, that you can’t work within this new paradigm, however.

Each person has not only the “hard” job skills and the “soft” ones they sell to their employer: They also have skills which they apply to hobbies or other “extracurricular” activities that occupy the time which they are not working for their employer.

This is where the famous adage “do what you love and find a way to get paid for it” enters. This is the ideal route. Find a way to do that which you love and make an occupation from it. Obfuscate the traditional definition of “work” so that it seems like play to you, particularly if you are that type of person who differentiates between “work” and “play.”

A lot of these hobbies-turn-jobs can be done as a sole proprietorship: Being in business for yourself, using yourself as the sole business entity. Although it is less difficult to deal with than its more sophisticated brethren, it is also just that: Less sophisticated. Not offering any liability protection is the greatest disadvantage of this form of business organization.

The next higher form of business organization is the partnership. There are multiple types of partnerships, but the key factor in choosing a partnership is that it offers a level of protection against liability inasmuch as it spreads liability amongst a group of partners. General partnerships, limited liability partnerships, and limited liability companies are the fundamental organizational forms which they take. For more, read up on them!

Next up are the corporations. The most sophisticated form of business organization; it is also the most powerful. A corporation is considered its own separate legal entity: In other words local, state, and federal governments consider it to be its own person. As such all liability taken on by a corporation is the responsibility of the corporation. Each “co-owner” or shareholder of a corporation is only liable for as much as they invest in the corporation. Put another way if you invest $1000 into a corporation and the corporation completely tanks, you only lose your $1000. The “classic” corporation is the “C-Corporation:” This organization type is typically unlimited to the amount of shareholders it can take on but can be taxed as a corporate entity (corporations are taxed as such in U.S. states; not at individual rates) and the shareholder is responsible for their financial gains from their investment in the corporation as well. Corporations are wonderful things for making money; as Ambrose Pierce humorously defined a corporation: “Corporation, [noun]. An ingenious device for obtaining individual profit without individual responsibility."

The other corporate entity is the “S-Corporation.” While some consider it a “glorified partnership,” the government still considers it a type of corporation. The name is derived from the portion of the Internal Revenue Service’s tax code that allows for the existence of this entity, “Subchapter S Corporations.” Essentially, the Subchapter S style of corporation allows for tax liability to be “passed through” the corporate veil such that each shareholder is responsible for paying them: While a regular C Corporation is double taxed (corporate plus individual), the S Corporation doesn’t pay corporate taxes, instead the individual shareholders are responsible for paying taxes on their individual investments in the enterprise. Subchapter S Corporations are typically corporations that are originally formed as C Corporations in their respective states, then paperwork is filed with the IRS in order to gain recognition as an S Corporation. An example of an S Corporation? My own.

Why such the long blog post? Because, at this time of year it seems that everyone is thinking about what moves to make in the year ahead: The obligatory New Year’s Resolution. Why not, in the upcoming year, figure out how you can break the “tyranny of the 9 to 5,” get away from the “dungeon of the cubicle” and figure out how you can become one of the successful string of businesses that drive innovation and contribute to society? Maybe it is for you, and maybe it is not for you. I strongly urge you to consider, however, this option.

While these steps take a skill set that is general and diverse in nature, one of my string of topics in the forthcoming year will be to develop the skill set required for a business owner, small business operator, or even CEO of one of the large multi-nationals. However, if you’d like to request a topic, please feel free to email me a question, your suggestion for a topic, or your feedback at this address!

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Engineering Through It

Engineering is a fine discipline.

Albert Einstein was once quoted as saying that “scientists investigate that which already is; engineers create that which has never been.” Most of my life I have fashioned myself a scientist, however I have served in many a role in which solutions needed to be engineered. Indeed, any practitioner or student of any field surely applies to it skills which are inherent to the engineer; as Leonardo da Vinci said: He who loves practice without theory is like the sailor who boards ship without a rudder and compass and never knows where he may cast. Engineering is the practical portion of any sort of theoretical study.

Rewind to my earliest days in the military. I served as a combat engineer when its military occupational designation was still 12B, “twelve-bravo.” The Army taught us in horizontal and vertical construction, mobility and counter-mobility, bridge building and destruction and—in order to facilitate the former—demolitions. All of these were trade skills: As obedient privates in “this man’s Army” we were drilled with the motions, methods, and repetitions which would work their way as sets of skills which would be applied to a team, a squad, a platoon, or a company in the execution of a task that fit into a mission which dictated which drills we would use to get the mission completed. Yeah, this was the monotonous portion of what was otherwise a glamorous career choice for a grunt.

What I would go on to learn, though, was that this particular style of engineering in combat forces many a practitioner to think on his or her feet. Any good combat or technical engineer that had served for long enough in the career field, enlisted or officer, could tell you that there are at least three ways of doing things: The right way, the long way, and the field expedient way. For engineers in the army there is a constant barrage of problems to be matched with a solution. My two years serving as a combat engineer and four years after that supporting engineer units taught me that theory may say one thing, but it is nothing short of human ingenuity that often succeeds in breaching the otherwise arbitrary limits of when said theory meets the contact of the battlefield.

While a battlefield can be a harsh place, so can our daily lives. The realities which we call our own have good guys, bad guys, fires to extinguish, and battles with which to contend. While there are countless books out there that can help us with the theory of dealing with it, the bottom line is looking within ourselves and to our environment to find the tools—mental and otherwise—to aid us in adapting to our world. We must take the theory which we know from our pasts and apply them with an eye towards “how can I better adapt in this moment to make the most of my situation?”

On the flip side of this coin, American psychiatrist M. Scott Peck points out: The truth is that our finest moments are most likely to occur when we are feeling deeply uncomfortable, unhappy, or unfulfilled. For it is only in such moments, propelled by our discomfort, that we are likely to step out of our ruts and start searching for different ways or truer answers.

That which ensues are thoughts about comfort zones and expanding them in such a fashion that you’ll be ready for the big moments to happen: Engineer your life for what you want it to be.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Monkey Mondays: See Monkey Teach Economics

See monkey teach Fairtrade.

Article here.

Monkey's game here.

Breaking News: Artificial DNA

I thought that this was good enough to include in these virtual annals.

Although this is a natural extension of the Human Genome Project, something that I figured about a decade-and-a-half ago would happen, it is amazing nonetheless.

A brief couple paragraphs from the full article.

"I see a cell as a chassis and power supply for the artificial systems we are putting together," said Tom Knight of MIT, who likes to compare the state of cell biology today to that of mechanical engineering in 1864. That is when the United States began to adopt standardized thread sizes for nuts and bolts, an advance that allowed the construction of complex devices from simple, interchangeable parts.

If biology is to morph into an engineering discipline, it is going to need similarly standardized parts, Knight said. So he and colleagues have started a collection of hundreds of interchangeable genetic components they call BioBricks, which students and others are already popping into cells like Lego pieces.

Keep in mind: From here on out the progress being made isn't arithmetic in nature, rather it is a geometric progression: In other words, instead of "1, 2, 3, 4..." so on and so forth, it is more akin to "1, 2, 4, 16..."

History in the making, right in front of our eyes!

Sunday, December 16, 2007


I am a firm believer in the notion that we each know, at each point in time, that which we need to know. Yes, this is a point of view in which destiny is a key factor, something more than a random consideration.

I have stayed fairly busy as of late: Secretary and Treasurer on a couple nonprofit boards as well as taking on key managerial roles with each, running and operating in an executive capacity on a nonprofit which is my brainchild, a for-profit company, and other volunteer work in the discipline of IT consulting. This is not to mention my regular “9 to 5” job, as I refer to it. Also of note is that next month I begin college again towards a degree in Finance.

I have had at least a couple people worry about me stretching myself too thin in the last week. One had mentioned that the comment was made to them that perhaps I “am setting myself up for failure.” I have thought long and hard about this, trying to perceive it from an unbiased and logical, rational perspective.

I subsequently came across a quote in a movie:

"When a person prays for patience, do you think that God makes them patient, or gives them the opportunity to be patient? If he prays for courage, does He give him courage or the opportunity to be courageous?"

I applied this singular thought to my own situation. What I decided upon was that right now, right at this time, I am being challenged and simultaneously offered the opportunity to prove myself and to succeed in that which I have been working towards for years.

Sometimes it seems so long, yeah, but his passion is so strong; and something makes him carry on… He'll do what he has to do, to be part of the game. Yeah, he knows what he'll have to go through, till the world knows his name.

Part of what I’ve learned, so far, along this journey; something that’s just been reaffirmed for me, is that you get back that which you give: The more you give to other people, granted that they don’t “screw you over,” the more that you will receive in return. If you give to the absolute, you will receive in kind. If you are apt to take in the absolute, then you can expect the same of others.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Like a Good Bartender

For years I have held that, from a purist’s perspective, there are two types of functional individuals: Subject matter experts and professional managers. One should aspire to become one or the other or both in whichever industry they are in.

A subject matter expert, commonly referred to simply as SME, is one that is just that: An expert in the subject matter of their discipline. If this means that you are flipping burgers, be the best burger flipper than you can be. Subject matter expertise insists that you become technically proficient in a particular discipline or subset thereof. As a young soldier I found my expertise in the subject matter of soldiering, engineering, administration, personnel, information technology, and others. One by one, I knocked out the learning that was necessary to become practically proficient in each piece of subject matter as to create a promotion pathway for me. By the time I left the military I was working as a key individual in a personnel and administration section of an engineer headquarters.

The notion of subject matter expertise didn’t hit me as much, however, than it did when I worked with Cingular, now the new AT&T. As a receivables management agent, I took inbound calls from wireless phone customers using a handful or two of different systems. I was told that in order to progress, I needed to memorize policies and procedures for receivables management.

So, that’s exactly what I did. In between calls I spent my time going through the company’s knowledgebase and memorizing policies and learning procedures. As I progressed in these studies over a few weeks I started to learn how the system worked, how the system thought, so to speak. I became, at the time, the quickest-promoted person in history of the call center in which I worked. To this day I hold second place—a good friend of mine beat me by a matter of weeks; he entered the call center in which I worked from another division of the company which was even more empowered and difficult. We both rose to positions of prominence in the same call center because we took paths that others were not willing or able to travel, went the extra mile, and stood out amongst our peers.

We became subject matter experts in our field.

The professional manager, by contrast, is less focused on specific technical details and more focused on being a generalist. However, this isn’t exactly what it seems. In an earlier blog post I point out the fallacy of the “conventional wisdom” of the “jack of all trades, master of none.” It is my personal sentiment that this phrase was constructed by those more apt to be SMEs rather than the generalist that is more suited to being a professional manager.

If a subject matter expert is much like the Army’s warrant officer program—a special subset of the officer corps that was established and exists to operate and maintain the specialized technical systems of the modern military, the professional manager is a manager that adheres to a code similar to that of the Bushiddo—the warrior code that the samurai used in feudal Japan, not unlike portions of the code of chivalry used by the samurai’s European counterparts.

A professional manager uses the sub-disciplines of business and organizational theories and practicum and applies them to any situation: Accounting-Finance-Economics, Management, Information Systems and Information Technology, Sales-Advertising-Marketing, Human Resources, Law, Organizational Psychology, so on and so forth.

Like I said, the professional manager can apply managerial skills to any circumstance. In this regard they are akin to “Special Forces” of the managerial world: For the situations in which they find themselves will often only find it smelling like roses after they have entered themselves into the equation.

That is not to be said that subject matter experts aren’t like Special Forces. In fact, what each SME and Professional Manager should aspire to is to become both: Subject matter experts should learn the “soft skills” of management and associated disciplines to give them a broader perspective when it comes to the performance of their duties and professional managers should heighten and hone their component subject matters as well as others.

What does this mean for the rest of us? Basically just to start down one path or the other and find the other path along the way!

Monday, December 10, 2007

Monkey Comes Home

Following a successful campaign, Armani the pet capuchin monkey, is being returned to his home in Maryland!

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Momentum from the Funk

After last week’s post, I couldn’t help but to think about how closely the words initiative and inertia are alike. Anyone reading my blog for any significant amount of time understands that part of my background is in physics, and therefore I like to apply the classic Galilean notion of the simple forces involved in a given system. In this instance the simple forces involved fall onto Sir Isaac Newton.

One of Newton’s assertions as a premier physicist, natural philosopher, of the time was that an object at rest tends to stay at rest: Once there, it doesn’t like to go anywhere. Sound familiar? People, I have come to realize, are much the same way. I’ve even heard it stated to go as far as that, after a couple weeks of stagnation, a person’s body chemistry can change to feed their sloth. Furthermore, without some sort of energy applied to the system…without even trying to do something to get out of such a funk…entropy ensues, chaos reigns, and it becomes even more difficult.

About a year ago several events transpired over the course of a few months, putting me into a depression of sorts. I thought it would pass, as certain times it tends to do, however it only got worse. Taking its toll on things, I holed myself up in my little world, tucked away in a comfort zone, and only interacted with the world on an as-needed basis. I hid from the remainder of it.

Fast forward to several months forward: I knew where I was at, I knew where I had been; I realized that I was in a low point in my life and the manifestations of that state of mind had begun to take its toll on things that were close to me and held dear. What did it take?

Energy applied to a system at rest will have a tendency to move it along a prescribed force vector. In other words, a kick in the pants got me going in the right direction—anywhere that was away from my present state of mind at the time. This process to gain momentum found me first reflecting through long and deep sessions of how events would transpire. What I came up with were things that were right under my nose all along, I just needed to watch and to listen, being mindful of opportunities.

Of course, throughout my affiliation in each of these places, tapping into my initiative, momentum has started to gain: Momentum that, I feel, given enough time and energy will result in the ultimate goal of my larger dreams being achieved…the grand scheme of things.

As I said last week, a personal mantra of yours when confronted with the notion of adversity between the “here” and the “there:” If it is going to be…it is up to me.

Monday, December 03, 2007

Monkey Mondays: Robotic Monkey Overlords!

Would you believe that brain signals from monkeys in North Carolina can control a pair of robot legs in Japan?

Read about it here!

Sunday, December 02, 2007

If It’s Going to Be…

Imagine any one of the battles during, say, the Revolutionary War. Gentleman’s wars, at the time, consisted of two uniformed military elements marching towards one another and firing inaccurate rifles, cannons, and other instruments of destruction. When I saw my first movies depicting this form of warfare I was stunned, thinking that popular military theory for engagement at that time in history was grossly inefficient.

This mode went on through the 18TH and 19TH centuries—the War of 1812, the Civil War and such. It wasn’t until later in the 19TH century that a new element started to find itself into the vernacular of warfare: Initiative. In personal behaviour, initiative is the ability and tendency to initiate: to start an action, including coming up with a proposal and giving or helping without first being requested to do so.

I’ve always equated the development of initiative with the period that John J. Pershing served actively in the United States Army. Born John Joseph Pershing on 13 September 1860, “Black Jack,” as he would come to be known, graduated from West Point in 1886, serving in the Spanish-American War, the Philippines Insurrection, and the Mexican Expedition through his service during World War I.

It was during the period of Pershing’s influence in the U.S. military and abroad that the concept of initiative would develop. Instead of lining up in columns and rows and marching towards another military unit lined up in the same fashion, initiative dictates that you do just what it suggests—move to the enemy, to contact. Oddly enough, the underlying concepts for the military doctrine of initiative can be seen in doctrines long before its coming of age in the 20TH century. Sun Tzu is known to teach that the commander calculates, in part, battlefield conditions prior to entering armed foray. General Clausewitz popularized the notion of battlefield geometry amongst his contemporaries. General Nathanial Bedford Forest, from the (American) Civil War era put it simply: Be there “the firstest with the mostest.”

Initiative is a force multiplier—a single person’s dedication amplifies the efforts of many in a single group of people organized for the same purpose. It also sets the stage for higher levels of economics to take effect and add to the synergy of the team.

Continuing with the analogy, initiative built into a formidable concept after The Great War and morphed into something that helped General George S. Patton command his troops through Europe in World War II and gain more ground than any other army in history. He did this, in part, because of the indoctrination of initiative into formal military education and the manifestation of initiative into the main battle tank—an awesome feat of military weaponry if ever one existed. Initiative would go on and help form the basis for the Airland Battle doctrine that reigned during the Cold War…but that is a discussion for another time.

Remember this: Take the initiative…because if it is going to be, it is up to you to make it happen.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Monkey Mondays: Fun Times With Weapons

Gorillas have recently been spotted...with weapons.

"Gorillas Fight Human Invaders Using Weapons."

Saturday, November 24, 2007

No Man is an Island

Imagine the first fax machine: A machine of which we know the capabilities today. What about the first one, though? What is the usefulness of this machine that can send a facsimile to other fax machines…when there are no other fax machines?

The point of a single fax machine is moot.

Now…add another fax machine. What is the usefulness of your fax machine now? Common sense indicates that it would double. This isn’t exactly true: The effect of these two fax machines is directly proportional to the number of fax machines—instead of being an arithmetic proportion, it is a geometric proportion. In other words the net result of the utility of these two fax machines is not 1+1, but rather 2^2, or 2 squared. The increase is so great because each user can either send or receive a document instead of the fax machine offering just a single purpose in relation to each other fax machine in the world.

In fact, there is a mathematical formula depicting this relationship: n * (n − 1) / 2 whereas n is the number of fax machines in the network.

Network. Networking. Networks. Thirty years ago this word meant much less than it does today. The man behind the power of this simple word, Robert Metcalfe, was half the man behind the technology called Ethernet. Ethernet, in short, is the largely the technology behind our home and business networks and the entire connectivity of the “wired” portion of the Internet (in contrast to the “wireless” portion). In selling his wares, Metcalfe grasped to his background as a trained engineer and businessman to inform his customer of the simple economies of scale involving his new networking peripheral. While their work may be able to take their businesses to a certain point, in order to grow past this point of critical mass, they would need something revolutionary—a force multiplier—to realize any newfound value.

This brings us to a more generalized definition of the network effect. From Wikipedia: A network effect is a characteristic that causes a good or service to have a value to a potential customer which depends on the number of other customers who own the good or are users of the service. In other words, the number of prior adopters is a term in the value available to the next adopter. One consequence of a network effect is that the purchase of a good by one individual indirectly benefits others who own the good — for example by purchasing a telephone a person makes other telephones more useful. This type of side-effect in a transaction is known as an externality in economics, and externalities arising from network effects are known as network externalities. The resulting bandwagon effect is an example of a positive feedback loop.

How does this apply as wisdom? Think about applying such economics to your daily life. As I’ve said before, we can each consider ourselves a good wishing to perform services with other people (some more than others, sure) and from whom we look to offer our services—exchanges in the free market economy of life. Just as the 17TH century poet John Donne wrote “no man is an island, entire of itself,” as individuals we have little value to anyone but ourselves, if that is to be of any real value at all. When we are able to offer our services to another, then our value as an individual increases because we are able to both offer of ourselves and receive what things of value the other person in this exchange can offer. The more people that we have in our lives, to whom we are able to offer something of value, the more we are able to use the networking effect—those things which we can accomplish, thusly, can grow as a square of the people in our lives with whom there can be reciprocating value.

At a glance, it might seem like a complex concept, but think of it in this way: It is often said that a fraction of total jobs available in a given market are advertised through traditional sources—newspaper, Internet, radio, job service, etc; whereas most jobs are assumed through “connections” that a person might have. This is a direct result of the networking effect.

Ever get a tip from a friend? Can you say that you’re a better person because of the people in your life? How about what you are able to offer to other people?

This falls in line with a quip of wisdom I’ve held for several years. Take two ice cubes: One in the shape of a cube, the other with the same amount of mass in the shape of a thin sheet. Which will melt first? Why? Certainly the ice sheet will melt before the cube because it has more surface area exposed to the environment. If we make the assumption was the preferred result of this process, wouldn’t your preferred result of your life be the success that you’d like from it? Increasing your “surface area” to the world, that is to increase the potential for interactions which you have, can thus increase your potential for reaching critical mass and, with help of the networking effect, geometrically grow into and past your hopes and dreams.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Warren Buffet Quote

He's been called "The Oracle of Omaha," but by many accounts his personality is just that of a farmer or other tradesman from the Midwest. Money has not inflated his ego at all. For a man who has been as liberal as he has, though, he certainly has a fiscally conservative view. Interesting.

I don't have a problem with guilt about money. The way I see it is that my money represents an enormous number of claim checks on society. It's like I have these little pieces of paper that I can turn into consumption. If I wanted to, I could hire 10,000 people to do nothing but paint my picture every day for the rest of my life. And the GNP would go up. But the utility of the product would be zilch, and I would be keeping those 10,000 people from doing AIDS research, or teaching, or nursing. I don't do that though. I don't use very many of those claim checks. There's nothing material I want very much. And I'm going to give virtually all of those claim checks to charity when my wife and I die.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Ever think that you might be better than most others on the road? You might be right.

A recent test administered GMAC Insurance indicates that most people wouldn't pass a driving test if they had to take it again.

• Drivers 35 and older were more likely to pass

• Illinois, Georgia, Washington, D.C., Pennsylvania, New York, New Jersey, Rhode Island and Massachusetts were the least knowledgeable states overall, with average scores under 75 percent

• Fifty-five percent of the respondents didn't know how many feet before making a left or right turn to activate their turn signals

• The national average score was 77.1 percent


Attack of the Monkeys!

Monday, November 19, 2007

Competence and Confidence

In our daily lives we tend to encounter all types of individuals. Some of them know what they are doing, some of them do not; others have the allusion of knowing something with great degree, but don’t necessarily have any competence to back it up.

The world is filled with all sorts of people with varying degrees of competence and confidence. Have you ever stopped for a moment to think of the relationship between these two things, though?

Competence: “The quality of being adequately or well qualified physically and intellectually.”

Confidence: “Assurance: Freedom from doubt; belief in yourself and your abilities.”

From our youngest years we either have skills forced upon us (learning to fold towels, clean our rooms, or take out the trash, for instance) or we actively seek them out (putting things together, taking things apart, drawing, etc). When I was in the military I became acquainted with the government model of assessment of one’s competencies: Knowledge, skills, and abilities; known simply as “KSAs.” The theory, I gathered, was that various bits of knowledge built upon one another towards the end of developing skills, combining to form greater abilities: The knowledge, for instance, of such things as telephony fundamentals work together to form the basis for skills to work with telephone platforms, switching equipment, and the like. These skills cohesively bind to form the ability to maintain, troubleshoot, and repair these systems.

In human resources the term “skill set” is thrown around to describe just that—particular sets of skills that go into various job domains or career fields. We seek education, training, and our own versions of the school of “hard Knox” to acquire the various skill sets which each of us possess.

Well, most of us, at least. Let’s look at the other side of the coin.

Confidence, as described above, is a function of assurance in oneself. Following this to a logical conclusion of “what happens if you have confidence, but no competence” we are left with a simple, glaring truth: Arrogance.

In a book in which he speaks about MBA graduates and their successes, Henry Mintzberg writes “confidence without competence breeds arrogance. In this article he goes on to describe the relationship between confidence and competence:

Imagine a 2 x 2 matrix of confidence and competence. The effective people have both, the sad ones neither. The unfortunate people have competence but lack confidence. They are worth worrying about, however, because a small boost in confidence can have great benefits. The dangerous people, especially in this hyped-up society, are the remaining group: those whose confidence exceeds their competence. These are the people who drive everyone else crazy.

I couldn’t have said it better myself.

If you think Mr. Mintzberg has some good ideas, you can pick up the book here!

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Programmer Search!

One of my side projects, The Phoenix Institute, is looking for volunteer programmers to program an open source game.

If you're interested, visit this page where you can submit your resume and qualifications.

Support This Website!

Instead of begging and pleading for your generosity this holiday season, I'm going to offer you some of the greatest deals of the season by offering you a link to the Black Friday deals of In addition to some very, very cool things, you'll be helping me, this blog, and my website.

From Amazon:
Black Friday Deals

Next week is Thanksgiving, and Friday November 23rd is the biggest shopping day of the year - Black Friday. This represents a tremendous opportunity for you to earn referral fees by sending your site visitors to the deals and events available on Your visitors are sure to find some great deals, and we have just released a brand new interactive Deals widget that will help you showcase the latest deals on your site in real time.

Black Friday Deals

On Black Friday won’t have a cold, dark parking lot to line up in, but we will have a bunch of great deals to help you and your site visitors get holiday shopping done for less. This year we’ve created a Black Friday page for holiday shoppers at will be offering hourly deals from 6am to 6pm PST along with thousands of products on sale for a limited time. Also, customers will get gift wrapping for $.99 per item. So, let your site visitors know that this year they shouldn’t fight the crowds when they can shop online at from the comfort of their own homes.

New Associates Deals Widget

We have launched a new interactive Amazon Deals Widget. Show your visitors exactly what the best deals on Amazon are at any and every time they visit your site. This widget lets you showcase's Gold Box Deals including Deal of the Day, Lightning Deals, and Our Best Deals in real-time on your site. We are offering Sidebar and Banner formats in a range of sizes to give you flexibility in placing this widget on your site.

On Black Friday the Amazon Deals Widget will pull in the hourly Lightning deals. But be sure to add this to your site as soon as possible to capitalize on the wave of shopping excitement that begins next week and runs through the rest of the holiday season.

Customers Vote - 6 rounds. 18 ridiculous deals.

Amazon Customers Vote is back for 2007. Each round of Customers Vote lets you and your site visitors vote for the deal you’d most like to have. Voting begins on Thursday, November 15th and continues through Monday, November 26th. There will be six rounds of voting this year with three products in each round. Beginning Thursday, November 22nd, each day the new winning product will be announced, and randomly selected customers will have the opportunity to purchase the item for which they voted at a great discount. Products this year will include:

  • 1,000 Nintendo Wii Game Systems (see prices on Customers Vote page)
  • 500 Panasonic 7.5MP Digital SLR Cameras, $499 (*normally $1,149.95)
  • 1,000 Razor E100 Electric Scooters for $29 (*normally $89.99)
  • 500 TiVo HD Digital Video Recorders, $89 (*normally $253.48)
  • 500 Magellan Maestro 3140 Portable Auto GPS Systems, $99 (*normally $247.00)
  • 200 Samsung 46” 1080p LCD HDTVs, $719 (*normally $1,899.98)

* “Normal” prices quoted above are accurate on release date but are otherwise subject to change at any time.

The other 12 products can be viewed on the Customers Vote page. To link directly to Amazon Customers Vote and earn referral fees on any subsequent qualifying purchases, use the following link, substituting your Associates ID:

We look forward to working with you to make this holiday shopping season a success. Happy Holidays to you and yours.

The Amazon Associates Program

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Just Give Up

Monday, November 12, 2007

Monkey Mondays: Clone the Monkey

For the first time, scientists have created dozens of cloned embryos from adult primates. But what are the implications of this technical breakthrough for the future of mankind?

A great breakthrough in cloning with monkeys!

Saturday, November 10, 2007

I Will Hug It and Pet It and Call It Fuzzy Logic

We live in the era of the Fuzzy Logic Generation.

Throughout our educations in school we learned the mechanics of Boolean Algebra. It is the easiest of algebra to teach because it is linear: That is, with a few simple rules, one can logically see progressions that can easily be spotted and built upon: Two comes after one, positive numbers are greater in value than negative numbers, and odd numbers and even numbers are two completely separate things. Things generally make sense and the world is in order.

While Boolean Algebra is pretty great and wonderful, the real world can often not be described in such linear, or even binary terms. Enter fuzzy logic. In the real world where values don’t necessarily have a binary range of “true” or “false,” or “one” or “zero,” This form of Non-Boolean algebra can help in decision making with imprecise data.

With the background of a computer programmer, I can look at the world and give it a vast series of conditional formulas and craft it into a working model. However, the amount of formulas grows increasingly complex; while this isn’t impossible, the mandate of the wise engineer is to simply things as thoroughly as possible. When such a system hits the “real world,” unnecessary complexity tends to make things, well, more complex than they need to be. Fuzzy logic is great for being able to eliminate much of that complexity, solving problems with expert and realtime systems reacting in an imperfect environment that can be highly variable, unpredictable, and volatile.

In 1964 Lofti Zadeh, a former chairman of the electrical engineering and computer science department over at the University of California at Berkeley, was programming software to solve the handwriting recognition issue. Since traditional set theory didn’t work for him with the binary approach—“off or on—“that it applies, Dr. Zadeh needed something that applied more a “matter of degree” approach rather than the alternative.

From a page that describes Fuzzy Logic:

Fuzzy logic manipulates such vague concepts as "warm" or "still dirty" and so helps engineers to build air conditioners, washing machines and other devices that judge how fast they should operate or shift from one setting to another even when the criteria for making those changes are hard to define. When mathematicians lack specific algorithms that dictate how a system should respond to inputs, fuzzy logic can control or describe the system by using "commonsense" rules that refer to indefinite quantities. No known mathematical model can back up a truck-and-trailer rig from a parking lot to a loading dock when the vehicle starts from a random spot. Both humans and fuzzy systems can perform this nonlinear guidance task by using practical but imprecise rules such as "If the trailer turns a little to the left, then turn it a little to the right." Fuzzy systems often glean their rules from experts. When no expert gives the rules, adaptive fuzzy systems learn the rules by observing how people regulate real systems.

Short of being a mathematician, what is the point of Fuzzy Logic?

Try having a conversation with anyone under the age of 30; certainly anyone under the age of 20: They have grammars and use sentence structures which are laced with “like,” “kinda,” and “sorta.” How difficult is it to get someone to give you a straight, firm answer about anything?

Fuzzy logic doesn’t dictate a world that belongs or doesn’t belong; in other words, it doesn’t dictate bivalent sets: Cannot belong to both a set and its complement set or to neither of the sets—preserving logic to avoid any contradiction that a number can and cannot simultaneously be a part of multiple sets. Instead, the multivalent sets of fuzzy logic break these laws to some degree. According to fuzzy logic, the number 5 (for instance) can belong to both “odd” and “even” number sets. Imagine an air conditioner: While you may consider the air coming from it to feel “cool,” another person might consider it “just right.” The air coming out of the air conditioner can be measured as belonging to multiple sets. The boundaries of standard sets, those able to be manipulated by classic algebra, are exact while those of fuzzy logic, Non-Boolean Algebra are curved and can taper off, creating partial contradictions: The air coming from that air conditioner can be 25 percent cool and 75 percent not cool at the same time.

I’ve long held to this belief: While many, many things in the world can be described in black and white, it is things like human emotion that add color to our worlds. If you can cut past all of that, you might very well be able to simplify the situation.

Friday, November 09, 2007

“We’d rather miss a good one than hire a bad one.”

It's tough to find good help these days. That is why these companies are changing their tactics for finding good workers in a national economy with less-than-natural unemployment.

Do you play well with others?

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Effective Habit Change: Five Things to Know

The title says it all.

Read about it here.

Get Rid of "Brain Drain"

Here are some of the signs you might be suffering from brain drain.

  1. Mental exhaustion.
  2. Irritation or drowsiness when thinking about what you have to do.
  3. Putting off certain tasks because they are "too hard to think about."
  4. Snipping at others who are not moving fast enough.
  5. Feeling as if the harder you work, the farther behind you get.
  6. Feeling depressed, stressed out, or as if you can't keep up mentally with your task list.
Have these symptoms? Learn tools to get past them here!


While I'm a very big proponent of a higher education, it should be kept in mind that a higher education, namely college, isn't necessary for success. What is in you, rather, is the key to success.

15 Successful Entrepreneurs Who Didn't Need College

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Saturday, November 03, 2007

The Ineffectiveness of Labor Unions

Remember a few weeks ago when the United Auto Workers had their strike fiasco with Chrysler?

Now, just weeks after that, Chrysler is cutting 12,000 jobs and models from their inventory.

This is the effectiveness of irrational greed in the marketplace, or lack thereof.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

10 Debunked Myths on Cognitive Science

A fairly quick read that describes...exactly what the title says it does!

Read the article.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Today’s Gamer, Tomorrow’s Strategic Leader

An interesting article caught my eye through one of my news aggregators over at From the article:

Video games have become problem-solving exercises wrapped in the veneer of an exotic adventure.

Certainly a first line that intrigues and piques one’s curiosity, let alone the affect the headline has on someone. Reading on:

Video games have become problem-solving exercises wrapped in the veneer of an exotic adventure. In today's fast and rapidly-changing business environment, the strategic skills they teach are more important than ever.

The article goes on to debate, through the perspective of the two authors of the book Got Game: How the Gamer Generation is Reshaping Business Forever. The authors state that instead of being like television where people are the bystander, gaming offers a suspension of disbelief and includes the gamer into the world of the game—they become a willing participant.

As such, the gamer must think strategically in interacting with their environment, propelled to win.

These skills, the article states, are indispensible to the business world. These traits are even more accentuated in multi-player online environments—the MMOGs like World of Warcraft—such that small team leaders need to leverage the abilities of their teammates in the execution of success.

This culminates in an important point:

Games teach by trial and error. Consequently, gamers learn that failure is a necessary and unequivocal part of the path to success. This is a message that is often lost in the real world, because repetitions are few and far between and therefore the stakes are too high during each attempt. In games, repetition is high and immediate feedback is provided to the gamer. While failure in the real world is disheartening, in games it serves as an encouragement to try harder. This attitude towards failure eventually permeates life outside of the game. The result is that the gaming generation is willing to take more risks and be more entrepreneurial than previous generations.

The kicker?

80 percent of managers in the US under the age of 35 had significant video game experience and that gamers had a more positive outlook on life than non-gamers. Gamers tended to prefer multitasking to individual assignments, to stave off boredom.

Monday, October 29, 2007

“Time Machine,” Two Races, and Spam

Ever get a spam email? Does the below sound like promises that they throw around frequently?

Men will have symmetrical facial features, deeper voices and bigger penises, according to Curry in a report commissioned for men's satellite TV channel Bravo.

Women will all have glossy hair, smooth hairless skin, large eyes and pert breasts, according to Curry.

According to an evolutionary theorist from the London School of Economics…in several thousand years, this could be you! That is, unless, you end up being part of that other race.

The Silicon Ball of Finance

Recently I posted a story here about complex algorithms being used to predict acts of terrorism and advise military and state leadership in the conduct of matters of diplomacy. An obvious extension of using such sets of mathematical formulas would be to predict how to win the lottery, as I mentioned in that post.

My view of the lottery, though, has changed since I devised my original concept on the matter: The lottery is a tax on poor people and those with a lesser amount of economic and financial knowledge.

What the lottery-winning seeking public should do, instead, is to use the stock market.

So, without further ado…who is better in the game of investments: A computer or a person?

Let’s start by defining a couple types of investing: There are those that believe in and practice the fundamentals: Observing P/E ratios and, essentially, applying a series of formulas to a company, an industry, their stock picks, etc. Fundamentals’ investing is in my opinion, just that: The fundamentals of investing.

Take a man like Warren Buffet: He is the epitome of someone who believes in behavioral finance. When I was much younger I remember a commercial for some large Wall Street Trading firm which stressed that after they looked at a stock, they would go and investigate it in-depth: Interview managers, examine infrastructure, and perform other in-depth activities which filled in the blanks that a fundamental stock pick couldn’t do.

The comparison and contrast is a simple one: Fundamental investing is a very logical, linear, rational method of investing. Behavioral investing, on the other hand, has a million shades of human emotion involved and, therefore, is open to the irrationalities which we are prone to as humans.

And that’s it: A computer program which attempted to account for the human aspect a investing would need to be exceedingly complex.

The odd part of this whole stock market thing? The irrationalities which incite risk in the system is why the stock market goes up as much as it does over time and is why any money put into the stock market as a portion of Gross Domestic Product adds to GDP by factor of 400 percent; in other words, when constructing the value of GDP if you put $100 into it as a form of investments—anything in the stock market—it is calculated to increase as a portion of GDP at a rate of 4 to 1, making that $100 investment worth $400 in terms of GDP; contrast that against the 1:1 ratio of government spending.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

The Science Sensei

I'm impressed and think you will be too.

He's funny, he's informative... he's the Science Sensei!

The Misnomer of Racism

They’re standing on the corner and they can’t speak English. I can’t even talk the way these people talk: Why you ain’t, Where you is, What he drive, Where he stay, Where he work, Who you be… And I blamed the kid until I heard the mother talk. And then I heard the father talk.

Bill Cosby has been making waves lately amongst certain parts of the populace with how he is fed up with, for lack of a better term coming to my head, “the Black Culture.”

Let me clarify before I continue. So often people whom criticize blacks are called racists; the same term can and will likely be applied to you if you are considered Caucasian and criticize anyone of another skin tone, color, or race. Prejudice or discrimination based on an individual's race,” is the definition of racism. I am not racist. I could care less what your skin color is; it’s merely a sequence of genes arranged in such a fashion to allow a person to adapt better to their environment.

Bill Cosby makes remarks about a culture that permeates society, trending the most in certain geographic areas, ideologies, etc. In his latest rant he stresses that black people “can’t blame the white people anymore.

I urge you to read the short piece. To coax you further, one more paragraph:

Brown or black versus the Board of Education is no longer the white person’s problem. We have got to take the neighborhood back. People used to be ashamed. Today a woman has eight children with eight different ‘husbands’ — or men or whatever you call them now. We have millionaire football players who cannot read. We have million-dollar basketball players who can’t write two paragraphs. We as black folks have to do a better job. Someone working at Wal-Mart with seven kids, you are hurting us. We have to start holding each other to a higher standard.

This phenomenon isn’t confined to any single race or culture, either. I can walk down to my local Wal-Mart and find the same kind of people—with any color of skin.

Wisdom of the Nerds: String Theory in About 2 Minutes

This was too good not to share with you:

The fundamentals of the underlying theory of the entire universe: String Theory.

...In about 2 minutes, complete with a rubber ducky!

Watch the video here!

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Consider It Similar to America's "Area 51"

Baikonur, once one of the Soviet Union's most secret cities, is still closed to outsiders and surrounded by barbed wire. Armed soldiers at checkpoints guard dozens of launch pads, five tracking control centers and a missile test range.

A bit outside the theme of this blog, this is still a fascinating article nonetheless: A write-up on Russia's Baikonur, the center of the Soviet, now the Russian, space program.

Read the article here.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Monkey Mondays: Tiny Monkey Born in Great Britain!

The Sun online was invited down for a first, exclusive look at the pint-sized Primate - who's just three inches long.

Read the article and see the pics here!

Saturday, October 20, 2007

It's a School Day: Do You Know Where Your Child Is?

"From my own experience - this could get me in trouble - I think every single school district in the nation has at least one perpetrator. At least one," says Mary Jo McGrath, a California lawyer who has spent 30 years investigating abuse and misconduct in schools. "It doesn't matter if it's urban or rural or suburban."

That is the most shocking statement from the entire article, in my opinion.

Sexual Misconduct Plagues US Schools

Friday, October 19, 2007

The Seven Percent Solution

Feeling down? Would you consider yourself depressed? Research suggests that you should get a full-time job!

The 7% figure isn’t news so much as the fact that if you don’t hold down a full-time job, that figure nearly doubles, to 12.7%. That is, 12.7% of people who don’t hold a full time job in the U.S. have reported an episode of depression from 2004 to 2006.

That is, of course, if you don’t already have a full-time job.

7% of U.S. Workforce Depressed