Archive for October, 2009

Thinking About Thinking: Start Thinking About What You’re Thinking!

October 24, 2009

I would suggest a new concept today. Well, kind of. Kind of an addition to an old idea, too.

Imagine what happens when you say something to someone else. If they’re paying attention, they remember what you said, and those words and ideas are, in a sense, absorbed into them. After that, all their actions after that, everything they do and say, is influenced, to some degree (however potentially incredibly small) by what they heard. And everything they say to other people becomes part of them, not only propagating their own ideas, but the influence your ideas had upon their ideas.

Thusly, everything you do and say can potentially, over time, influence any and every other person in the human species, to some degree. Ideas don’t just get propagated consciously, but eventually become subliminated to some degree in the behavior of many more individuals, perhaps to emerge without prompting, or even without the understanding of the person taking the action.

This produces a massively intricate system of human thoughts and behaviors, kind of like a cognitive ecosystem. Unlike most ecosystems, however, this one is entirely artificial, created by people, for people. Yet, in many ways, it behaves similarly.

A natural ecosystem is a robust thing, able to absorb and adapt to radical changes, though individual parts of the ecosystem may disintegrate. The components of ecosystems, however, grow more delicate the more complex your ecosystem gets. And ecosystems tend to be changed slowly, but respond to sufficient change quickly – changes will build up towards a critical mass which will start a chain reaction that, when the criteria are met, will flash through the ecosystem.

Our mental ecosystem behaves similarly in all these ways, right down to the fascinating similarities involving punctuated equilibrium phenomena. And this is an important part, as it implies that for something really big to happen in our society, it has to sufficiently suffuse itself among us, a process that basically requires us to talk with each other about it a lot, until eventually, one day, when we try to talk about it, we find that we all already agree with each other – and from there, we do something about it, all at once.

So, what does all this mean, you ask. It means that, if our minds, our culture, is like an ecosystem, then we desperately need some way to control pollution. And that control has to come from us as individuals.

It means that you should think about every word you say.

And to do that, it means you need to understand every word you say. If you’re about to say something, you need to ask yourself, “Do I know this is true, or is it just something I heard but never thought about? How do I know it’s true? What does it mean if it’s true?”

If you don’t know something is true, then don’t say it – or at least, make clear that you don’t know if it’s true. Always be able to answer the question, “But how do you know that?”, and always be willing to ask it to others.

The same applies to everything you do, too. “What’s the reason I do this? Do I know it’s a good reason? How do I know it’s a good reason?”

If you don’t have a good reason to do something, then don’t do it – or at least, do it with the understanding that you might not be doing the right thing. Always be able to answer the question, “Why do you act like that?” and always be willing to ask it to others.

It also means that we might not see the impact of what we’re doing – at least, not immediately. But thoughts and actions build up inertia, until eventually they burst, all of a sudden, into very real and very visible effects.

Advertisements

I Despise Unrealistic, Nostalgic Romanticisation of the Past

October 22, 2009

So, since this guy was smart enough to turn off comments from people who might disagree with his wistful but not particularly factual diatribe about American history, I’m going to make this post a comment in response to it.

I see one person waxing nostalgic about their youth, creatively equating their actions with those of a select few a couple hundred years ago, and acting like this form of behavior is one that was somehow thriving and is now dying.

This article reads like one of a million articles discussing the Moral Decay Of The Youth During This Generation – and it’s not even good with the details.

Americans weren’t fighting for individual freedom – they were fighting for the ability to represent themselves in government. That’s what “Taxation without representation” was about, our original demand of England was for us to receive representation in Parliament as citizens of England, so we could have a say in our government. Not “My” government – “Our” government. Not individual freedom, but our self-determination as a people. Yes, there’s a difference. Yes, it’s important.

Nor was our government forged from ‘understanding of human nature’ any more than it is today (and what understanding we had then, wasn’t as good as what we have now anyway). Our government was created, in fact, from countless minor compromises and ideological conflicts of every type, some with unspoken underlying issues associated with them, and all of this parallel to some individuals seeking their own personal profit and using the events of the times as a vehicle to obtain it. Meanwhile, the people got preached at by the aristocracy controlling the flow of information, mostly following their lead, and being smacked down when they deviated – the proportion may be different, but the parts of our government are all the same today.

Furthermore, ‘our founders’ were not remotely some holistic monolith of thought and beliefs fundamentally distinct from what exists today. In fact, they almost immediately polarized into two camps, one of which advocated strong centralized government (the Federalists, who were vaguely similar to liberals today), and the other of which advocated weaker decentralized government (the Democratic-Republicans, which we could compare to conservatives today). Some didn’t like slavery, and others thought the Bible advocated it.

Finally, the founders were not all religious, just like they didn’t all believe the same ‘holistic’ junk. Thomas Jefferson even wrote an entire gospel which explicitly excluded all miracles, bucking the fundaments of even the modern Christian faith and effectively creating a philosophical, rather than theistic, Christian text.

Our nation’s founders were people, just like us. They bickered and argued and got into physical fights with each other, and some of them sure as hell did profiteer from the War of Independence (most notably, through smuggling). One wanted the Turkey to be our national bird. One was so incredibly popular, he was literally asked to be our King (Washington, if you’re curious).

When people romanticize these people and try to wax philosophical about how much better “things were back then”, they’re ignoring the reality of those times, and more importantly, they’re ignoring the reality of the present. America is little different in its’ fundament than it was two hundred years ago, with one big exception: Businesses are more powerful than the government is now, so they run the government. There are two ways to fix it, and one involves making the government really powerful, and the other involves destroying some businesses.

Most importantly, even back during the Enlightenment, ignorant blowhards were complaining about how social progress was Destroying All That Was Good. They, most of all, have not changed.

So, A Few Years Ago, I ‘Invented’ A Number System

October 17, 2009

…or so I thought, anyway.

Like many would-be young, aspiring mathematicians, I’d ‘discovered’ a concept that was in use for decades before I’d thought of it. That concept was the factoradic number system (I’d link the Mathworld article, but there wasn’t one – I was shocked).

The number system is simple to explain and tricky to grasp. The radix of any given digit in a factoradic number is that digit’s place from the decimal point+1. (Note: There are also definitions of the system which generate digits which are always zero. I think that’s a silly approach, and furthermore, it’s not how I did it those years ago)

So, in Decimal, the radix is always 10 – each digit is worth ten times more than the one that comes before it (1, 10, 100, 1000, etc). In Binary, the radix is 2 (1, 2, 4, 8, 16, etc). The equivalent series for the factoradic numeral system is 1, 2, 6, 24, 120, 720, etc – you may recognize this as the factorials (Mathworld).

You would count from 1 to (decimal) 50 in factoradic like thus (I’m counting in 5 lines of 10 numbers each, to make the progression clearer):

1, 10, 11, 20, 21, 100, 101, 110, 111, 120,

121, 200, 201, 210, 211, 220, 221, 300, 301, 310,

311, 320, 321, 1000, 1001, 1010, 1011, 1020, 1021, 1100,

1101, 1110, 1111, 1120, 1121, 1200, 1201, 1210, 1211, 1220,

1221, 1300, 1301, 1310, 1311, 1320, 1321, 2000, 2001, 2010.

Aside from changing a person’s concept of what a number system could be, however, the factoradic system doesn’t actually do very much mathematically (at least, as far as I could ever tell from tooling around with it). It’s used to work some with permutations, but doesn’t seem to have any interesting mathematical properties aside from that.

The article’s not quite complete, though (in fact, the article’s discussion page brings this up – I guess there’s just nowhere this has been officially written out, though I’m clearly not the first to think of it).

Back when I thought I’d invented this system as a novel numbering system, I wanted it to be a full-fledged number system, so I unknowingly expanded on the work you see there in that Wikipedia article – I defined the factoradic system to account for fractions.

It functions basically the same way on the right side of the, er… factoradical point (It’s not a decimal point, it’s not decimal counting!) as on the left side. Rather than each digit representing 1!,2!,3!,4!,5!, etc, they represent 1/2!,1/3!,1/4!,1/5!, etc.

This system maintains the unambiguousness of the standard counting system, and has a couple novel attributes, as well.

A rational number is a number that can be expressed as a fraction. In Decimal and other fixed-base systems, a rational number is any number that can be expressed as a definitive series of digits or repeating digits (such as 1/3’rd, which in decimal is .3 repeating).

In factoradic, a rational number is a number that can be expressed as a definitive series of digits – all rational numbers terminate (because for any possible denominator X in a fraction, there is a factoradic digit that represents 1/X! and thus divides evenly into it). Definitive series of repeating digits are instead used to express irrational numbers – numbers which can not be expressed as any fraction (of which there are at least a countably infinite number describable in the factoradic number system).

The easiest example is the constant e (as is also conveniently noted on wikipedia in the discussion for the article), which is 10.111… repeating.

I would further conjecture that any number that ends in a definitely repeating digit series in factoradic must be an irrational number (excluding extraneous zeroes, of course).

The opposite can’t be true (that all irrational numbers can be depicted in factoradic with a definite series of repeating digits), however, due to numbers such as .00112233…, which as far as I can tell is irrational but would never repeat a series of digits. It’s a shame, since it’d be awesome if there were a number system that were capable of describing all real numbers like that.

That’s the rambling saga of my career as a would-be amateur mathematician. I’ll probably play with the factoradic system off and on for the rest of my life (as I still think of it as my own invention deep in the recesses of my mind), so maybe I’ll even figure out something novel about it one day.

Anyway, I doubt I’m the only one who’s tinkered at math, found out something they thought was astonishing, only to find that either they’d forgotten to carry a 1 or the like, or someone had beat them to the punch tens or hundreds of years ago. I wonder how common it is, and I wonder if perhaps our math education were better, or if we as a culture were more reverent of our mathematics, if all those rediscoveries could instead have been discoveries of new things instead.

Dealing With An Overadvertised Government

October 14, 2009

In the US, campaign advertisements improve a politician’s chance to get or keep a seat. Lobbyists give money to politicians to fund campaign advertisements. Politicians make laws that lobbyists like so they can get more money. So we end up in a government where politicians make laws for lobbyists, not voters.

Thanks to that system, our democracy does not function.

We need to change that.

We can’t change it with the politicians, though – if the politicians don’t do the lobbyists bidding, the lobbyists will pay other people and our politicians will be replaced with people who obey the almighty dollar.

And we obviously can’t change it with the lobbyists – they’re rich.

But maybe we can change campaign advertising, the foundation of the system that renders our representative government ineffective.

There’s a dangerous assumption behind the idea of political advertisements – the idea that if you spend money on them, you can get votes. That is to say, political ads buy votes. And if votes can be bought, our republic can not possibly function.

Why the hell aren’t we offended by the very idea?! Each and every political ad, crafted not to inform you but to influence you, is like a message straight from our nation’s government at Washington saying, “We think you’re a tool.”

But what if, whenever someone saw a political ad on TV, they called the network airing it to complain about it? Or whenever they saw an ad on a website, they sent an email to the site’s administrator? I think we could concievably harass political advertisement out of our society entirely – or at least, make the lives of the people facilitating our cash-for-votes government miserable, as they rightly deserve.

So.

If you think this is a good idea, I have two requests for you.

  1. DO IT. If you see a political ad on TV or the internet, harass the bastards who put it there! Print this out and put it next to your computer and/or phone so you’ll know where to go for the major networks, and if you see it anywhere else, visit the network’s website and find their “Contact Us” section (the link will frequently be at the very bottom of the page, in tiny print). Maybe if we raise enough hell, we can accomplish something.
  2. Email this (by copy/pasting this whole thing into an email if necessary) to any friends or relatives you have you think might also be interested in the idea. No, don’t just spam-forward it to everyone on your address list, I hate it when people do that. Just send it to people you think might be as fed up about this as you are.

Anyway, I took the liberty of making a form letter for such complaints. Make sure to replace the stuff in brackets!

Sir or Ma’am,

I <saw/read> a political advertisement on your <network/website> today. I find it personally offensive that you permit such advertisements. It is impossible to meaningfully inform individuals politically in the <timeslot of a commercial/space of a banner ad>; leaving the sole possible function of a political advertisement as manipulation to ‘dupe’ individuals into adopting a position on a political issue which may or may not be realistic or sensible.

By permitting political advertisements on your <network/website>, you belittle my intelligence, and the intelligence of every American, and you degrade the quality of my government by promoting the importance and influence of campaign money used to buy advertising over that of an informed vote.

In light of this insult to my intelligence, to my people, and to my nation, I insist that you remove the offending political advertisement from your <network/website> immediately.

Mentioning the show/timeslot or specific webpage you saw the offending advertisement on may also help, but is not necessary.

Also, I collected  some contact information for some of the major TV networks:

ABC:
ABC Contact form – http://abc.go.com/site/contact-us
ESPN Contact form – http://proxy.espn.go.com/espn/contact
Disney Contact form (Best to specify channel for this one) – http://corporate.disney.go.com/responsibility/feedback.html

CBS:
CBS Contact form – http://www.cbs.com/info/user_services/fb_global_form.php
CBS News Contact form – http://www.cbsnews.com/htdocs/feedback/fb_news_form.shtml
CBS Sports Contact form – http://www.cbssports.com/help/contactus/usersspeak

FOX:
Fox Entertainment email – askfox@fox.com
Fox News phone – 1-888-369-4762
Fox News email – yourcomments@foxnews.com
FX email – user@fxnetworks.com

NBC:
NBC Contact form – http://www.nbc.com/Footer/Contact_Us/
MSNBC email listing (by show) – http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/10285339/
CNBC Contact form – https://register.cnbc.com/email/EmailSupport.jsp
USA Network contact form – http://www.usanetwork.com/feedback/#theForm

Time Warner:
CNN Contact form (Pick a show) – http://www.cnn.com/feedback/cnntv/
TBS phone – 404-885-0758
TBS Contact form – http://support.tbs.com/ics/support/default.asp?deptID=5475
TNT phone – 404-885-4538
TNT Contact form – http://support.tnt.tv/ics/support/default.asp?deptID=5477

I Made A Picture!

October 9, 2009

It’s designed to exploit our inbuilt facial recognition functionality.

I call it "Circles and Lines".

I call it "Circles and Lines".

It’s also supposed to look creepy (because it hopefully exploits our facial recognition functionality).

So, how’d I do?

On Workplace Morale and Productivity

October 8, 2009

I’ve heard a lot about morale, or ‘esprit de corps’, as a part of my job, but I never really understood the concept until recently.

Recently I moved to a new sub-organization under the same employer, and I know what morale is now.

Where I used to work, people behaved according to high standards of professionalism, were friendly and engaging, and willing to help each other. Discipline was light and didn’t need to be any worse, because individuals complied with directives under their own power, willingly. Individuals were energetic and productive, and the shop accomplished impressive things.

Where I work now, the very idea of professional behavior is a joke, and mentorship is almost nonexistent. Individuals are abrasive and their interactions are caustic rather than constructive. Discipline is woefully light, vitally needed, and respect for authority is low. As such, compliance rates are low and nobody really cares about improving them. Individuals are unfocused and apathetic, and the shop is burdened under a comparatively much smaller workflow.

More importantly, I feel the impact personally. At my previous location, I was eager to face new challenges and accomplish ever-more-impressive tasks. Here, I have to drive myself just to complete the simplest of tasks, simply because I care so much less. My accomplishments feel less significant, the interaction with my coworkers less enjoyable, and my objectives less important.

I believe in the importance of morale now – I am now a convert, having seen it in action, and its’ lack in inaction.