Saturday, March 08, 2008

Discussion: Economics of Technology Early Adoption

An interesting discussion over at Slashdot regarding the premium that people pay for being early adopters of technology. The discussion is done through the filter of the HD-DVD format which was recently declared dead; the casualty of the infamous "next generation format wars" between HD-DVD and Blu-Ray.

They Ought to Call Me Hercules

Over a cold slice of coconut cream pie and warm conversation recently a good friend of mine paraphrased an old adage that, probably, most of us have heard: “That which does not kill us makes us stronger.” Originally a Nietzsche quote it has been adapted to fit a plethora of situations from the warrior to the clerk that works in the local convenience store 40 hours each week: It has become a modern-day ethos of the person just trying to make it through, longing for something better as a sum result of their experiences.

The more strengthening experiences which they have to make it through, the better that it will make them: Someday these situations will make them Hercules-like.

So it stands to reason: Why do bad things happen to good people, vice versa, and other permutations of either in between. The short answer: Free will.

The longer answer: Start with a leaf that falls from far atop a high tree. Physics can tell us the individual forces affecting it—wind resistance, gravity, acceleration due to gravity, various factors of aerodynamics, and wind velocity and direction. It cannot, however, tell us where the leaf is going to land. Just as the physicist which can describe what is happening to the leaf has only a finite perspective of the universe ahead of him or her, each of us lack anything more than the finite perspective we allow ourselves.

A good way to reach this understanding is to first understand what the physicist does about the falling leaf: Understand the specific ways we are interacting with the world around us and how the world is interacting with us on a daily basis. Learn the general principles which guide you forward and figure out how you can make each better.

When we worked together at one of the major wireless companies in resolutions the same friend that I mention above taught me that problems a person has with the outside world usually originate from inside that person. In other words, if you are having problems with your spouse it is best if you look inside yourself before placing blame with them.

Even though animals have what resembles free will, the human sense of free will, combined with our problem solving skills and how the greater mix of those traits which make us human all falls into line making us, as humans, special. As humans we can choose. We are not programmed for any specific behavior, lest that which we have or allowed ourselves with which to be programmed. We are driven on a daily basis because we find specific utility in them. This utility manifests itself as pain, pleasure, morality, or one of many other things. Because we have the choice in deciding the value which our behaviors have, it is meaningful. On the other hand, if we were simply programmed to do something, lacking the choice to do it, the meaning that it would otherwise have is lost. You have the choice to do good things; you have the choice to do evil things—whichever path you choose then has all the more significance to you…and, through you, it has increased significance to the world around you.

As every child learns, however, each choice has consequences—either positive or negative. Let’s go back to the leaf for a moment: Even though it doesn’t have free will, it has a path from the top of the tree to the ground below it, through the space between the two. Every location through which it passes, each moment which it passes through that location, there are consequences. Since leaves are responsible for photosynthesis on the tree, the loss of a leaf in the community of leaves removes from the productivity of the tree for survival; the path of the leaf towards the ground might otherwise impede others in its path; where it lands on the ground might do the same, worse, or better. Just as physics teaches us the relationship between us and the energy which flows around us, it also teaches us the concept of the “world line” such that each particle—or, each person—has a path that it makes through the world. These paths interact with the paths of those in our immediate vicinity and as a component of the greater whole.

People tend to have only a finite perspective of the world around them, but without higher education or life experience tend to lack a strategic perspective; not only inasmuch as how their actions comprise the consequences of the greater whole, but also how they have or may become consequential casualties of the greater whole instead.

The reconciliation between our immediate lives and the grand quality of the greater community of humankind may seem mind-boggling, but you just need to remember that, from an economic perspective, you only need to participate to the capacity which you are able: Good deeds done on a daily basis will not only have spillover effects on the world around you, what are otherwise known as the “ripple effect,” and help to add value to the greater community.

In closing I’d like to end with a story that comes from a great movie from the mid-1990s: Phenomenon. In the movie the character played by John Travolta tells a story of a grove of trees in Colorado which were originally thought to be just a bunch of trees; in reality they were found to share a common root system which helped the grove thrive. As the modern-day human civilization we share a common root system, tempered by our freedom of choice: As parts of the entire grove of individuals, our actions have consequence to the greater community, just as the greater community affects us as individuals. If we want to make things right with the greater whole we start from within and make ourselves a more valuable part of the whole.

Sunday, March 02, 2008

Monkey Mondays: Monkeys and Economics

Scientists examine the circumstances under which chimpanzees, our closest relatives, will exchange one inherently valuable commodity (an apple slice) for another (a grape), which is what early humans must have somehow learned to do. The researchers found that chimpanzees often did not spontaneously barter food items, but needed to be trained to engage in commodity barter.

Why Don't Chimpanzees Like To Barter Food?

Perspective of the Giants: Warren Buffett

The name of the blog is Underground Value; and they have a great quote from second-richest-man Warren Buffett as part of an interview with him.

The difference between potential and output comes from human qualities. You can make a list of the qualities you admire and those you despise. To turn the tables, think if this is the way I react to the qualities on the list, which is the way the world will react to me. You can learn to turn on those qualities you want and turn off those qualities you wish to avoid. The chains of habit are too light to be felt until they are too heavy to be broken. You can’t change at 60; the time to look at that list is now.