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A Fractal Phenomenon

 

October 1, 2008

 

 

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The banking crisis, coupled with the mortgage crisis, are upon us, their causes explained at length elsewhere for anybody who cares to exercise minimal effort to understand what happened.

 

I retroactively include a wonderful article by Thomas Sowell in this regard.

 

 

The purpose here is not to retread worn carpet, but to look more generally at issues like this, and others like it, to examine common roots, if any.

 

 

 

AFFORDABLE HOUSING

Let's start with the one upon us.  Freddie Mac, Fannie Mae, the Carter Administration, the Clinton Administration ... yes.  At fault.  But let's look generally at what happened.  There was a problem: some people couldn't afford conventional mortgages.  So what?  The assumption is people have a right to a house, and if they can't get it by conventional means, the government must step in and provide for "affordable housing".  The problem is solved.  But is it?  The immediate problem is solved, but the long-term effects of the actions are not seen - for a while.  The banking crisis.  The rising cost of the average home.  The loss in the general public's 401(k).  Yes, it's all unintended - yet it's predictable.

 

Let's diagram this out:

 

 

Fine.  Let's take another issue:  Medicare.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

IN GENERAL

Let's move from these specific examples to a general understanding of what's going on here.  Is there a pattern emerging?  Of course there is.

 

 

 

 

SO WHAT?

This is no revelation to anyone who has done a bit of thinking on these issues.  The mantra, however, goes as follows:  Government gets involved, and bad things happen. The focus of the discussion tends to focus on the causal connection between the following four items.  We talk now about the establishment, by the Carter Administration, of the Community Reinvestment Act.  By the Clinton Administration for extending and demanding more loans.  Of the chain of events leading to the current catastrophe.  All true.  But the conversation fails to focus on one crucial aspect of the process:

 

 

 

Even IF the government has the means to do provide that "something", it would do no good in a country where individuals respected the idea of property and individual rights.  And in such a society, the reverse is true: should citizens demand that which is not theirs, the proper government, in securing the rights of individuals, would oppose such requests.

 

Something must be out of whack with our "checks-and-balances".  We've got people demanding, and the government complying!

 

What's going on, here?  And what can be done now, with an important presidential campaign weeks away?

 

Ayn Rand wrote the following 36 years ago, in an article titled "The Season of Platitudes", appearing in the Ayn Rand Column 10/7/1962:

 

"An election campaign is not the time to teach people the fundamentals of political theory, and a candidate is not a teacher.  He can only try to cash in on such ideas as he believes the people to hold.  He is not the cause of political trends, he is their product."

 

 

What is the cause?

 

The educational system. 

 

And the result?  What inevitably happens when the "checks-and-balances" between those two entities above collapses, and they're allowed to run wild together?  We see the results. 

 

Where should the fight take place in restoring our system to a proper one?

 

 

 

THE INDIVIDUAL AND THE GOVERNMENT

 

Two images come to mind when I see the government responsible for calamity ... one is from Billy Jack, the other from Open Range. 

 

 

"We got the law here, Billy Jack."

 

"When policemen break the law, then there isn't any law - just a fight for survival."

 

 

 

Robert Duvall, talking to the Marshal, in "Open Range":

 

"We got a warrant sworn for attempted murder for them that tried to kill the boy who's laying over there at the doc's.  Swore out another one for them that murdered the big fellow you had in your cell.  Only ours ain't writ by no tin star bought and paid for, Marshal.

 

It's writ by us. And we aim to enforce it.

 

We got no quarrel with none of you folks. Baxter's men bushwhacked our friend and shot him dead.  Shot a -year-old boy, too. And clubbed him so hard, he might not live. Tried to take our cattle. Your marshal here ain't gonna do nothing about it.

 

You don't like free grazers in this town. We don't much like being here.

 

But a man's got a right to protect his property and his life. And we ain't letting no rancher or his lawman take either."

 

 

 

A Line Design Black Hole

 

October 2, 2008

 

 

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Pretty Pictures - Pretty Math

The pictures are neat, but what's more neat is the math necessary to create them.  It's all accessible to any high-school student.  A portion follows:

 

I've got a circle, and I clearly need to do something with it.  We obviously need a circle, and given this circle, we're trying to find - and plot- points on it.  Let’s label the point on the circle as (x,y).

 

After all, this is what I’m trying to find.  What else do I need to know?  Well, what is the center of the circle?  For simplicity sake, let’s label it (0,0), and correct for this later.  Finally, how big is our circle?  We haven’t specified that, so let’s assume our circle has radius r, and let's put in 45˚ as something to start with.

 

But how do I find (x,y)?  A bit of trigonometry helps in this regard, as I know the following relationships:

It seems simple enough:  substitute x, y, r, and 45° and I can arrive at sine and cosine relationships, enabling me to solve for x and y:

But plugging these into my spreadsheet, I do not get points looking reasonable.  The formulas, I’m certain, are correct, yet the results are not.  Why not?

A bit of research reveals Microsoft Excel does not perform trigonometric calculations using angles, but rather by radians!  Therefore, to properly use my formulas, I must convert all degree measurements into radians. 

What are radians – and how do I convert degrees to radians?  Let’s find out.

 

Degrees to Radians

I know something about the circumference of a circle, and I know this formula includes the circle radius r.

But does this lead me anywhere?  I’m still talking about “distance”, while I’m looking for something regarding “angle” or “degree”.

Radian, then, must refer to the angle carved out by the radius along the perimeter of the circle.  And if one radian carves out one radius, and there are 2π radii on the circumference, then there are 2π radians in a circle.

 

I’m closing in on the answer to my question: how do I translate degrees into radians?  Above, I gave an expression for one degree, but I don’t have one degree.  I have lots of different degrees.  Fortunately, the translation is now easy.

 

A Line Design Black Hole

While playing around with these designs this morning, I wondered what would happen if I rotated not the whole diagram, but instead each line?  If I rotated the whole figure, I, of course, would get a rotating figure.  The animation looks cool, but that's it. 

 

The designs are really composed of hundreds of individual lines.  What happens if I rotate each a small degree?  Let's see:

 

Here's another ...

 

And another!

 

 

My Line Design Cube - On the Move

However, if I group my lines, and rotate them together, I get the following interesting "rolling cube" ...

 

What's this?  This last inversion of my "grouped rolling cube" looks vaguely familiar.  Could it be?  Is It?  You be the judge!

 

 

The Santa Fe Trail

 

A Brief History of the Louisiana Purchase

 

October 3, 2008

 

 

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Some work to go here ...

 

But why did the French want to get rid of Louisiana?

 

How did the French get the Territory in the first place?

 

The French HAD the territory initially, and gave it to Spain?

 

 

A Logical Haiku Invitation

 

 

October 4, 2008

 

 

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round@rationalsys.com

Logical Haiku?  It seems a contradiction in terms.  "Logic" AND "Haiku"?  A rational process of putting poetry to paper? 

However far-fetched it may sound, I've found a process does help me do just this.

Sadly, according to this Google Search  the ideas of "Logic" and "Poetry" running side-by-side is historically nonexistent, as almost all of these hits are mine!

Let's change that.

In my March 7 post, I described the "Logical Haiku" process.  Here is the template that resulted:

Step #1: record an experience – anything very interesting to you – as a complete sentence.

Step #2: why does this experience exist? What causes it? Write this cause as a complete sentence.

Step #3: read these two sentences as follows: if (step 2), then (step 1). You’ll probably note there is something missing, that the sentence does not make sense. Add another statement to make the logic better.

Step #4-#6: translate each of the above sentences into the appropriate Haiku statements. It does not matter which order you take here.

Step #7: name the Haiku.

 

Here are nine "templates" to work off, with the picture serving as the backdrop.  You fill in the blanks.

But to get started, maybe we could do one together.

Here's a picture - it may be hard to tell what's going on, but we had a candle burning at dinner, and I put the lid on the jar.

What do you see?

When I first presented this example - with candle and flame in hand - to a group of educators, the responses I got were expected: the flame's going out because there's no more oxygen in the jar.

"Really!", I said.  "You SEE all that?"

Of course you don't see that.  Step 1 is "DESCRIBE WHAT YOU SEE".

I see the flame going out.  But there's so much more to see - IF YOU LOOK!  The cool patterns of the smoke.  The haziness of the jar.  Much more.

However, what I see is "The flame is going out".

Why?

Because there's less oxygen in the jar?  Really?  And what has oxygen to do with fire? 

MY statements became:  Fire needs oxygen to burn.  Why?  At this point, I don't know - and I don't care.  This "Logical Haiku" is an entry point into learning.

Fire needs oxygen to burn.  If Fire needs oxygen to burn, and IF I put I place a lid on the candle jar, THEN the flame is extinguished.

I think that's great - plus I see where there still is a lot of work to be done.

Now, the Haiku 5-7-5 structure comes into play, and with concrete statements to focus on, the words come much easier.  Here was my first one:

Now it's your turn!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ideas Have Consequences

 

October 5, 2008

 

 

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The bailout now passed, a bloated bill rushed through the Senate and House and hastily signed by President Bush.  Nearly $1,000,000,000,000 in money set aside - for what?

How did the market respond?

How was the market suppose to respond?

When the initial House bill failed by a 228-205 vote, the market tumbled - radically.  The fall was ascribed to the vote.  What can we make of this?

 

All investment eyes were focused on the coming Senate vote, whose fate really was never in doubt.  They'd save the day!  The 74-25 vote should have been seen by the market as joyfully as a preserver to a drowning man.

Was it?

What was the market's reaction?

It fell again!

What's going on here? 

 

And to complicate matters, the House returned to the issue and passed the Senate bill overwhelmingly (263-171).  The market?  IT FELL AGAIN!

 

What can the market be telling us?  How to resolve this apparent contradiction?  As usual, we "check our premises".  I think we'll find one of them wrong.  And I hope it means Wall Street is trying to teach government a lesson.  If so, I hope government listens.

How do we explain the issue?  Only by way of a timeline can we incorporate the events as they unfolded during the week, as mere statements of events don't seem to lead us anywhere. 

The market, we're told, sought the bailout as eagerly as President Bush.  Why would they?  It was offloading bad paper onto someone else.  It gave the market the opportunity to "have their cake and eat it, too".  However, during and after the House debate, and regarding the language of both presidential candidates, the market found themselves the target of derision.  "We are to blame?"  They began to see the nature of the game, and it was no game. 

They saw politicians clamoring about the essential nature of this bailout bill to save the financial market, yet load the bill with immense pork-barrel projects.  They saw the immediacy of the demands coupled with the Senate first delaying their vote by two days, and the House responding by waiting THREE days to follow-up.  They saw a 3-page document grow to 450 pages, knowing no elected official had actually read the document.

Further, the market recognized the government officials, largely responsible for the regulations giving rise to the Fannie and Freddie fiascos, were admitting nothing.

How could any market respond with confidence faced with this backdrop.

Therefore, the increasingly anti-capitalistic tone of the discussions, coupled with governments inability to accept any responsibility, sounded the alarm to investors this elected body was not to be trusted - with this decision OR ANY!  What does the economic future hold with such a diagnosis?  A sick patient indeed, but one suffering only the symptoms of allergies, where the patient needs the environment cleared!

The market's signals to the government?  I hope it was this:  LAISSEZ-NOUS FAIRE!

 

 

 

A Moratorium on Prices

 

October 6, 2008

 

 

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A Letter To The Editor, submitted to the Kansas City Star

I submit any industry spontaneously increasing prices 50% without fair competition would be subject to ridicule by your editorial board.

You can imagine my surprise when, reading the Sunday paper, I found, hidden in the upper right corner of Page B2, your announcement of such an increase in the retail price of your paper.

Other industries offering your justification of "rising transportation and newsprint costs" would be ridiculed. You would lament their inability to work "more efficiently to provide value to customers who find themselves in similar financial hard times". You would demand they "somehow" absorb the costs, continuing to provide services to the community who "have a right" to the product.

You would site their recent 10-year tax abatement and their near monopolistic position, and demand, in place of a 50% price increase instead a MORATORIUM on prices - to be removed at some uncertain future date. That's what you would demand of similarly situated entities.

You would exclaim, as each sale meant less profit, for all regulating bodies to hear: "LET US ALONE!"

Indeed.

Laissez-faire capitalism.

Michael Round

 

Intellectual Flotsam and Jetsam

 

October 7, 2008

 

 

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I finally found it!  A printout from a file I created, in about 1999, regarding this "New Way of Thinking" - the "Categories of Legitimate Understanding".  Why I retitled it "Understanding" versus the conventional "Reservation" I don't know.  I don't remember doing this.

You have to see and feel the actual sheet I created - it is soooo sweet.  Done on a (then) really fine printer, the quality is superb.  It is beautiful.

 

It was also never actually used in a discussion.  Never.  And herein lies a story of that which is simple made artificially complex, and therefore rendered intellectual flotsam and jetsam.

 

The Story

It all started with "Zapp", a good book written by William Byham and co-authored by Jeff Cox.  I liked the book a lot.

 

In 1992, I saw on a table in my brother's family room a copy of "The Goal".  What was it to me?  It was another book where Jeff Cox was involved!  I knew nothing of either Eli Goldratt or the Theory of Constraints.

Like most people, I read the book and could not put it down.  Unbelievable.  But this was far from my introduction to great philosophies.  This was another branch of a consistent philosophy of living and working that started with Ayn Rand and philosophy, W. Edwards Deming and Quality, and Maria Montessori and Education.

This was also a period in my life where I sought all sorts of certifications.  Marksman with the NRA, CPR, carpenter (not achieved!), programming - you name it, if it included a certificate and it was of interest to me, I wanted it.  Call it my "intellectual yondering days".

Such a program was available from the Goldratt Institute.  Passing the curriculum entitled one to be called a "Jonah" (after the philosophical character from The Goal).

Awesome.  I want it.

There was a problem.  You want it?  It costs $10,000!

Also, the courses are in New Haven, Connecticut, lasting two weeks.

Those are pretty big barriers to achievement!

Trying to get TOC as a business philosophy implemented at my former employer, I worked with a TOC-consultant from Oklahoma.  No go.

I couldn't go to the Jonah program.  I couldn't bring the Jonah program to Kansas City.  All seemed lost.

And then a book appeared.  It was about 1995.  I've got my copy somewhere in a box in the basement.  It was a soft-cover book, I took apart and put into a spiral notebook.  It was by a William Dettmer and it was, to me, Jonah training for $25!

Unbelievable!

My First Post on TOC and Education followed shortly thereafter.  (My goodness - whatever happened to Prodigy!) 

 

Education & The Thinking Processes

10 Mar 1996 MR MICHAEL L ROUND <EVUG86A@prodigy.com>

The thinking & improvement processes displayed in The Goal and It's Not Luck have, appropriately, been employed in the context of business change. It would seem that, given the power of the idea, we would be enthusiastic in employing these methods in the classroom as well.

Having said this, the attempt may be made to inject "TOC Logic" in place of the "existing, bland, truth-table laden logic we are taught in school now". I would argue that the power of the TOC thinking processes lies in the fact it is causality-based - and therefore, reality-based, as opposed to the abstract-nature of "truth-table" logic.

Let me give an example that demonstrates the incredible applicability of the TOC thinking processes.

I read the book Shane today...I have read it many times before, and consider it one of the most moral books I have read. I had just finished re-reading It's Not Luck prior to reading Shane, and the thinking processes were fresh in my mind.

An interesting question to pose while reading Shane might be, "Why are the cattle-barons fighting with the homesteaders? Why did the homesteaders appear at this time in history - and not others?"

You could construct a Current Reality Tree to describe this system, and gain an incredible understanding of history, of the west, of change in the west, rather than just reading a moral book.

For example, let's take just one undesireable effect... The cattle-barons are feuding with the home-steaders.

What could be the cause of this?

I could hypothesize two causes: the cattle-barons are accustomed to using the range from north to south without interruption, or worry of fenced off areas; and, the homesteaders are fencing off parcels of land to raise their own stock.

These two causes alone may account for the effect; namely, feuding, but they don't explain, why was this happening at this time in history.

What gave rise to the existence of homesteaders in the late 1800's that caused the feuds?

IF there was an abundance of individuals with the desire to be a homesteader; and IF there was land to be had for these individuals, THEN there will be an increase in the number of homesteaders on the range.

This doesn't quite answer the question, though. Why then? IF many cattlemen are employed by the barons, and IF a drought strikes, requiring the layoffs of the cattlemen, and...[prior two IF's], THEN [prior result]

I have abbreviated here due to space, but my point is that we should be making an effort to employ these techniques not just in the business community but the academic environment as well.

 

My first "TOC for Education" article sites these two books ...

 

The former was my introduction to the "Current Reality Tree", the latter my introduction both to the focusing steps of TOC, in addition to the logic of "if-then" statements.  Of course, simply saying this latter part sounds ridiculous.  We all think like this, don't we?  Maybe.  But we certainly don't talk like it, and it became the way I transformed my talking - my way of discussing - things. 

But Dettmer's book actually laid out in a structured format what these "if-then" rules actually were!  I was brought in from the desert to the oasis of logical reasoning! 

In the article above, you will see this in the way the "if-then" type statements are written.

If this all sounds good, then you might be wondering about the title of today's journal entry.

 

Doubt Arises

This became a way of thinking to me.  Seeking an "additional cause" when the given causal connection was not valid.  Seeking to clarify my statements.  Understand, part of this was second nature to me because, being a fan of Dr. Deming, my mind had been grilled in the ideas of systems theory and operational definitions.

 

But the CLR put both logical structure and visual structure to this mode of thinking.

 

However ...

 

There were certain "rules" one must follow to ensure your thinking is valid - and certain words you were to use when checking the logic of others - hence, the use of the word "reservation".  I realized I never was actually using the words "I've got an additional cause reservation here".  Instead, I just fix the problem.  I don't say, "Clarity Reservation" when something is unclear.  You simply make it more clear.  This went on and on.

 

In addition to the beautiful layout I found above, I also found "chapter 2" of the Dettmer book.  It was so important to me at that time, I did not even put it into the spiral binder - I carried it with me!

 

Here's part of what I describe above.

 

 

 

CATEGORIES OF LEGITIMATE RESERVATION

Self-Scrutiny Checklist

 

 

1. Clarity: (seeking to understand)

Would I add any verbal explanation if reading the tree to someone else?

Is the meaning / context of words unambiguous?

Is the connection between cause and effect convincing "at face value"?

Are intermediate steps missing?

 

2. Entity Existence (complete, properly structured, valid statements of cause, effect)

Is it a complete sentence?

Does it make sense?

Is it free of "if-then" statements (Look for "...because", "...in order to...")

Does it convey only one idea? (i.e., not compound entity)

Does it exist in my reality?

 

3. Causality Existence (logical connection between cause and effect)

Does an "if-then" connection really exist, as written?

Does the cause, in fact, result in the effect?

Does it make sense when read aloud exactly as written?

Is the cause intangible?  (If so, look for an additional predicted effect).

 

Part of Figure 2.2

William Dettmer ... 1993

 

 

Can you see what's happening here?  Something that was "so simple" is being made infinitely more complex!  I had no use for all of these rules.  Far from saying they didn't help, they actually hindered thought!  If you have to consult a "self-scrutiny checklist", you really have no idea what the idea is about in the first place.

 

Further, try actually communicating with someone like this and you're likely to get walloped upside the head.  "I have a clarity reservation."  WHAP!  Why?  Why would you say something like this?  Why not, instead, simply say, "I don't understand".  "I don't see how this follows from that."  "Isn't it also the case that ..."  "If this were true, then we'd expect to see ..."

 

Common language.

 

And this formal structure, that which I had once loved, I came to despise.  It hindered thought.  It hindered communication.  It had to be jettisoned from my intellectual arsenal!  It became ... intellectual flotsam and jetsam.

What's the alternative?

The following, from Chapter 23 of "Architects of Their Own Future", attacked formal logic PLUS CLR this way:

 

An Excerpt from Chapter 23

Architects of Their Own Future

“Absolutely! The mere word ‘debate’ conjures up images of people arguing back and forth about topics. Why should two people agree at the start of a conversation there’s not going to be a conversation?”

“And logic? How does teaching ‘logic’ fall into this? Isn’t this a ‘science’ course, or a ‘math’ course?”

Mrs. Anderson got Mr. Stephens’ attention and raised her eyebrows, alerting him she was about to say something particularly revealing: “That’s what I would expect a man to say.”

“Why do you say that?”

“That’s a great question! Sorry, Mr. Stephens, but he did ask a great question.”

“Why’s that?”

“Because in ‘debate’ terminology, or ‘logician hyperbole’, they’d say something like, ‘that’s an ad hominem attack’.”

“And?”

“And ‘why’? Why break down ‘reasoning’ into all of these ‘logical fallacies’?”

“What’s the alternative?”

“We simply talk, raising questions when you don’t understand, or can’t see how one thing follows from another, or finding an exception.”

“So you’re an English teacher, teaching logic?”

“We’re all teaching logic, Mr. Jones.” It was Principal Ragnar who interrupted the conversation.

 

 

Part 2 coming Thursday

 

Of Value to Whom - and For What?

 

October 8, 2008

 

 

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The Current Situation

 

 

A Normal Business Downturn Looks ...

 

 

What Happened Here?  A Viscous Cycle!

 

 

But Why?

 

This mark-to-market requirement of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act is being blamed for part of the current financial crisis.

Should it be?

In the computer business, for example, a depreciating asset will not "recover".  It's in a freefall as new technology replaces it. 

If the housing market value plummets, and if accountants attempt to put a "market value" on a falling asset, shouldn't an investor - at some point - realize this will be an appreciating asset - returning profit?

This assumes there IS a value out there being invested in?

Is there?

The current debate focuses on the Mark-to-Market requirements of Sarbanes-Oxley.  I'd prefer to fill in the black box below:

 

 

An Early Halloween

 

October 9, 2008

 

 

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A First Hand Look at the Santa Fe Trail

 

October 10, 2008

 

 

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Just south of our house, a map outlined where the Santa Fe Trail, moving west from Independence when Independence was the launching point, crossed Quivera.  How many times had I seen this sign, with it never meaning a thing to me?  Never again!

 

This is in my town! 

 

And, of course, Indian Jim.  Even this event has taken on new meaning with my understanding the Santa Fe Trail.  This paving contest dealt with the passage from the actual "Westport Landing" along the Missouri, where ships sailed west from St. Louis, off-loaded their ships at Westport, and plodded east to St. Louis.  This was as "west" as the water would take them.  The Santa Fe Trail moved southwest from here, passing right through Olathe.  The route, abandoned with the advent of the Atchison, Topeka, and Santa Fe Railroad, became a local transportation route, and, with the coming of the automobile, needed "re-paving".  Hence, Indian Jim!

 

 

Bankruptcy - of a Moral Kind

 

October 11, 2008

 

 

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Or, Said Differently ...

"Through centuries of scourges and disasters, brought about by your code of morality, you have cried that your code had been broken, that the scourges were punishment for breaking it, that men were too weak and too selfish to spill all the blood it required. You damned man, you damned existence, you damned this earth, but never dared to question your code. Your victims took the blame and struggled on, with your curses as reward for their martyrdom - while you went on crying that your code was noble, but human nature was not good enough to practice it. And no one rose to ask the question: Good? - by what standard?"

Ayn Rand

Atlas Shrugged

 

 

 

Or, Said Differently ...

WHEN IS IT OUR TIME TO RIOT?

 

 

A Growing World

 

The Dynamics of Population Growth

 

October 12, 2008

 

 

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When I hear the United States population is about to pass 300,000,000, I truly am amazed. I can remember growing up when we passed 200,000,000, and now we’re already passing the 300 million mark. My amazement is coupled with a sense of wonder, as well, because I think: if it took our country nearly 200 years to reach 200 million people, and then only 40 years to increase another 100 million, what does the future hold for us?

Where does it end? Does growth like this continue forever? What does growth mean? How does it take place? How can it be predicted?

The Actual Data

Let’s get some actual data on the table. The Census Bureau collects data ever 10 years. What do the numbers show?

Let’s see.

In addition to using the “actual” census data, it would be nice to see if there is some underlying growth pattern I can summarize in a formula. I’m sure there are many “growth models” to choose from, but I’ll start with a couple of simple ones: a linear growth model and an exponential growth model.

MODELING POPULATION GROWTH

A Couple of Choices

I have a couple choices: I can assume the change in population is the same from period-to-period. For example, if I was going from 100 to 150 over 5 years, I’d assume the annual change was 10, and apply the change appropriately to see how well this model replicated the actual census.

On the other hand, I could assume the change was exponential, comparable to compounding interest in my mortgage payment example earlier. The more people I have, the faster I grow. This model makes more intuitive sense, but I’ll model both to see what I come up with.

Applying these figures (% increase and decade increase) to the census figures generates the following graph and accompanying table.

 

It’s tempting to say a good formula approximating the actual census data is some combination of a linear and an exponential growth model. But there is a haunting question nagging at me regarding such a model.

I think about the meaning of “22.556% decade increase”. Does this apply forever? What about wars? What about women getting married later in life? What about couples wanting fewer children? What about the average life expectancy moving from 40 at the start of the 20th century to nearly 80 at the end? How are all these factors considered?

Moreover, the assumption here is the increase does apply forever – as if it were some law of nature. I think about what I’ve read in Russia and the coming “demographic catastrophe”, where they expect their population to fall dramatically! How can this be?

 

THE NATURE of a DYNAMIC SYSTEM

The Urban / Rural Dilemma

There’s a dynamic here I trying to capture I don’t see how a simple formula captures. Consider the movement from the rural to the urban environment. At the turn of the 20th century, the USA – heavily agricultural – sought jobs and life in “the big city”. There was a huge influx of people to the city. But life is ever-changing. What do we hear now? Many people, having lived in the city, now want refuge in the country!

Is this a viscous cycle, or just the nature of an ever-changing dynamic system?

 

A DIFFERENT TYPE of DYNAMIC MODEL

Let’s see if I can capture some characteristics of “population change”, and see if these can be incorporated into a very simple model.

If I have … I … Because …

too many neighbors die of overcrowding.

too few neighbors die of loneliness.

a reasonable # of neighbors survive I’m content.

have room to grow expand I want more.

Now, let’s apply these criteria to the grid below.  Let’s assume the grid represents some area, and the coloring of a cell represents “population”.

What constitutes “overcrowding”? According to the criteria above, “overcrowding” occurs when I have too many neighbors. How do we define “too many neighbors”? Let’s create a definition.

 

 

Well: let’s try something and see what happens. Suppose I start with a simple “structure”; a block, perhaps representing a group of people crowded in a neighborhood. If I apply the above rules to this starting grid, what happens to the grid?

I see the inner cells = “populations”, have died. Why? These cells had too many neighbors, and according to our rules, died of overcrowding. How did cell “d6” suddenly become populated? It had 3 neighbors (e5, e6, and e7), and according to our definition, was available for growth! What happens if I allow this process to continue?

 

An interesting result: starting from a “crowded assumption”, my pattern disperses, but quickly repeats itself after a few iterations.

I wonder what happens if I change the initial pattern.

 

MORE COMPLICATED STRUCTURES

These were rather small grids with rather modest starting points. What happens if I expand the grid, and make the starting conditions very random.

 

A UNIQUE MODELING TOOL

What exactly is this modeling tool above? John Conway in 1970 discussed this structure, called The Game of Life, dealing with individual entities. The movement of the entities – cellular automata – spawned a unique structure for possibly understanding the nature and operation of the universe – to be explored in a later issue!

Can such a structure be used to model population? Forest Fires? Traffic? We’ll see!

 

 

Columbus in Context

 

October 13, 2008

 

 

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On July 20, 1969, Apollo 11 landed on the moon.  Neil Armstrong stepped out - and onto - the lunar surface.

Never had man stepped on a galactic body except earth - until now.

A tremendous achievement.

He stuck an American flag into the surface.  We've seen it a million times.  What I want to talk about are the implications of that flag?  Does it sinply mean America was here first?  Does it mean this belongs to America?  Does merely being "first" give one the right to "ownership"?

When I think of this, I think of the Chuck Jones cartoon, "Duck Dodgers - in the 24 and a half - century!"  Finding "Planet X" and "claiming the planet in the name of Earth, Duck Dodgers is run over by a Martian, claiming the planet in the name of Mars!"

 

 

What has this to do with anything?  Today is Columbus Day, celebrating the discovery of "The New World".

 

We celebrate the day as though it's inherently good.  Is it?

And what have Duck Dodgers, Neil Armstrong, and Columbus to do with this? 

But wait!  These three examples aren't the same, are they?  Neil Armstrong and Duck Dodgers both were the first to land on uninhabited terrain.  Columbus, on the other hand, landed on occupied territory!

Let's put aside what did happen.  Let's put aside the reasons for his sailing across the Atlantic.  Let's put aside how he treated the "Native" Americans.  Let's put aside everything.

Instead, I want to ask, "What should he have done?  What would you do?"

It's tempting to say, finding the land claimed before you, you'd abandon your quest.  It's theirs, right?  They were there first.  But does the moon belong to the USA?  We were there first, after all!  And the Arctic?  Russia is claiming it right now.  Why not?  So maybe "first" does not mean anything. 

I don't know.

Is the alternative of "abandon your quest" to "conquer the inhabitants"  Is there another ground?  Not a middle ground, but a higher ground?  Not a "compromise" both parties can live with, but a solution where both parties are better?  Whatever the ground is we're talking about, I think Josey Wales said it well, in this exchange with Ten Bears ...

 

THE OUTLAW JOSEY WALES

A Discussion Between Two of the Few Honest Men in the Story

Josey Wales: You be Ten Bears?

Ten Bears: I am Ten Bears.

Josey Wales: (spits tobacco) I'm Josey Wales.

Ten Bears: I have heard. You're the Gray Rider. You would not make peace with the Blue Coats. You may go in peace.

Josey Wales: I reckon not. Got nowhere to go.

Ten Bears: Then you will die.

Josey Wales: I came here to die with you. Or live with you. Dying ain't so hard for men like you and me, it's living that's hard, when all you ever cared about has been butchered or raped. Governments don't live together -  people live together. With governments you don't always get a fair word or a fair fight. Well I've come here to give you either one, or get either one from you.

I came here like this so you'll know my word of death is true. And that my word of life is then true. The bear lives here, the wolf, the antelope, the Comanche. And so will we. Now, we'll only hunt what we need to live on, same as the Comanche does. And every spring when the grass turns green and the Comanche moves north, he can rest here in peace, butcher some of our cattle and jerk beef for the journey. The sign of the Comanche, that will be on our lodge. That's my word of life.

Ten Bears: And your word of death?

Josey Wales: It's here in my pistols, and there in your rifles. I'm here for either one.

Ten Bears: These things you say we will have, we already have.

Josey Wales: That's true. I ain't promising you nothing extra. I'm just giving you life and you're giving me life. And I'm saying that men can live together without butchering one another.

Ten Bears: It's sad that governments are chiefed by the double-tongues. There is iron in your word of death for all Comanche to see. And so there is iron in your words of life. No signed paper can hold the iron.  It must come from men. The words of Ten Bears carries the same iron of life and death.

It is good that warriors such as we meet in the struggle of life - or death.

It shall be life.

(He takes his knife and cuts his hand. Wales does the same and they grasp each other's hand.) So shall it be.

Josey Wales: I reckon so.

 

 

The Story of An Athletic Asterisk

 

And This Has Nothing To Do With Babe Ruth!

 

October 14, 2008

 

 

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The Boston Marathon

 

Isaac got a sports book for his birthday, with statistics on every sport throughout the ages.  He likes it.  So do I!  I was paging through it yesterday when I came upon winning times for the Boston Marathon.  Historical data like this has always intrigued me ... it puts history in context, while showing how things change over time.

What have been the winning times?  When did this race start?  How have times improved?  Let's get the data on the table!

 

The Boston Marathon also holds sentimental value for Lisa and I, as we actually ran on a 4-person relay with the great Bill Rodgers in Boston in 1995, I believe, as part of the "Team in Training" program to raise money for the Leukemia Society.

 

While looking through the winning times, it's easy to see a marked drop in the times for the female winner versus the male winner.  How did this compare over time?  I decided to graph it and see.

 

What I also saw was the first female winner wasn't until 1972, in Isaac's book.  Why was this?  Grabbing the data from an internet site to make it easier to graph the data, I saw 6 "female winners" prior to 1972 - all with asterisks!  What was this about?

Herein lies a wonderful story.

The story of Bobbi Gibb.

Bobbi Gibb was a woman who could run 40 miles at a time.  She first saw the Boston Marathon in 1964, and, two years later, wrote a letter requesting an application to compete.

She received a letter from the race director, saying women could not run the marathon.  Literally.  Women could not run in the marathon because women could not run a marathon!

How does one change such a perception?

She was driven to the start line, and then, when the gun went off, she simply jumped in!

I can't imagine!

As she tells the story, men around her immediately knew she was a female, but supported her nonetheless.  Good for them! 

She finished ahead of two-thirds of the pack, in a time of 3:21.

She "unofficially" finished first among women two more years, and women were officially allowed to enter in 1972.

And what became of Bobbi Gibb?  At this same time, she was attending the University of California in La Jolla, studying pre-med and mathematics.  After receiving her degree, she was denied entrance to medical school because she was a woman.

Politicians now are talking about making a crack in the "glass ceiling" and shattering it.  Here was a woman doing it 40 years ago!

Whatever she's doing now, likely she's an unbelievable success!

And women in the Boston Marathon?  How are they doing?  Let's graph not only the winning times, but also how much difference there is between the two winning times.

 

The improvement is rapid, and women now are within 10-15% of the male winning time.  As this has been stable over the past quarter-century, it's tempting to say this is the best women will be able to do - relative to men.

However, just thinking of the story of Bobbi Gibb, I wouldn't rule anything out!

 

 

One Step Further

The evidence suggests an "athletic 10-15%" rule, with many years of data supporting the claim.  However, this is only for one type of race.  Does this relationship hold true for other types of races?  If it's true "this one race" is reflective of performance in general, then we should expect to see similar relationships in other races.

 

 

 

With the Olympics just over, the obvious choice is Olympic data.  How does historic Olympic record data - men versus women - compare, not just for long races but all races of movement?

 

Let's see:

Our theory is remarkably consistent.  But this is just for running / walking races.  How does the graph look, if contests like swimming, jumping, throwing, etc., are included?  A later time ...

 

 

A Bilge Bay Reservation

 

Seal that Economic Door - OR WE'RE ALL GOING DOWN!

 

October 15, 2008

 

 

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The market has responded enthusiastically to a further government infusion of cash into the economy, in addition to news the government has purchased stakes in several large banks.

 

Is this the type of world we want?

 

There is a proper role for government - but what is it?  Do politicians even discuss this any more?

 

This latest move, however, involves a whole new step in the decline of the relationship between the government and the economy.  It's bad enough when property is privately owned, with governmental policies dictating how that property can be used - that technically is the definition of fascism.  When we move to government-owned property - and government controlled property - that is communism! 

 

And to see Wall Street react enthusiastically?  And when the market moves voluntarily - embracing shackles?  That's like cows stampeding to the slaughterhouse.

 

 

 

The State of Our Economy

Earlier, we described the iterative - and destructive - cycle of government intervention in the economy, coupled with it's defenders unable to justify the system.

 

With a structure in place now defining terms regarding ownership and control of property, let's couple these two items and see where we're at:

 

 

Tragically - and contrary to popular opinion, we've never been a fully capitalistic country.  As the cycle of control moves forward, we're now in a state where there is a huge mixture of government control - and ownership.  We're moving SW across the above ellipse! 

Which way will we go?

 

 

When I hear this, I think of the following scene from Crimson Tide, and want to close the economic bilge bay door - BEFORE WE ALL GO DOWN!

 

Conn/Bilge Bay: Flooding has recommenced!

It looks like three men are trapped!

Bilge Bay/Conn: Try and get those men out of there and seal that bay.

Sir, if we don't seal the bilge bay now, we'll lose the ship!

[Hull Groaning]

Bilge Bay/Conn: Can you get the men out?

Sir, there's no **** way! If I go down there, I'll never get out!

Barnes, come on! You've got to come!

Move, move! Barnes, come on, come on! You can do it! Move it!

Bilge Bay/Conn: Seal that bay.

Barnes, let's go! Come on! I've got to close the hatch!

What the **** are we doing here?

Bilge Bay/Conn: I say again, seal that bay.

Sir, there are men down there, and they're gonna drown!

Lieutenant Hellerman, you have your orders!

Now seal the ***** bay before we all go down!

 

 

As we approach hull crush depth, will propulsion be restored?

 

 

 

Robin Hood - as he Was - and As He's Remembered

 

October 16, 2008

 

 

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OBAMA FIRES A 'ROBIN HOOD' WARNING SHOT

NY Post

Charles Hurt

October 15, 2008

WASHINGTON - You won't find it in his campaign ads, but Barack Obama let slip his plans to become a modern-day Robin Hood in the White House, confiscating money from the rich to give to the poor.

"Your new tax plan is going to tax me more, isn't it?" the blue-collar worker asked.

"It's not that I want to punish your success," Obama told him. "I want to make sure that everybody who is behind you, that they've got a chance for success, too.

"My attitude is that if the economy's good for folks from the bottom up, it's gonna be good for everybody. I think when you spread the wealth around, it's good for everybody."

 

Is it good for everybody?  Who was the real Robin Hood, and why do we praise a man remembered for theft?

Is the myth consistent with the reality? 

 

As the world dashes madly to embrace the philosophy of Robin Hood, my favorite character from Atlas Shrugged, had different ideas ...

 

"I'm after a man whom I want to destroy. He died many centuries ago, but until the last trace of him is wiped out of men's minds, we will not have a decent world to live in."

What man?"

"Robin Hood."

Rearden looked at him blankly, not understanding.

"He was the man who robbed the rich and gave to the poor. Well, I'm the man who robs the poor and gives to the rich—or, to be exact, the man who robs the thieving poor and gives back to the productive rich."

"What in blazes do you mean?"

"If you remember the stories you've read about me in the newspapers, before they stopped printing them, you know that I have never robbed a private ship and never taken any private property. Nor have I ever robbed a military vessel—because the purpose of a military fleet is to protect from violence the citizens who paid for it, which is the proper function of a government. But I have seized every loot-carrier that came within range of my guns, every government relief ship, subsidy ship, loan ship, gift ship, every vessel with a cargo of goods taken by force from some men for the unpaid, unearned benefit of others. I seized the boats that sailed under the flag of the idea which I am fighting: the idea that need is a sacred idol requiting human sacrifices—that the need of some men is the knife of a guillotine hanging over others—that all of us must live with our work, our hopes, our plans, our efforts at the mercy of the moment when that knife will descend upon us—and that the extent of our ability is the extent of our danger, so that success will bring our heads down on the block, while failure will give us the right to pull the cord. This is the horror which Robin Hood immortalized as an ideal of righteousness. It is said that he fought against the looting rulers and returned the loot to those who had been robbed, but that is not the meaning of the legend which has survived. He is remembered, not as a champion of property, but as a champion of need, not as a defender of the robbed, but as a provider of the poor. He is held to be the first man who assumed a halo of virtue by practicing charity with wealth which he did not own, by giving away goods which he had not produced, by making others pay for the luxury of his pity. He is the man who became the symbol of the idea that need, not achievement, is the source of rights, that we don't have to produce, only to want, that the earned does not belong to us, but the unearned does. He became a justification for every mediocrity who, unable to make his own living, had demanded the power to dispose of the property of his betters, by proclaiming his willingness to devote his life to his inferiors at the price of robbing his superiors. It is this foulest of creatures—the double-parasite who lives on the sores of the poor and the blood of the rich—whom men have come to regard as a moral idea. And this has brought us to a world where the more a man produces, the closer he comes to the loss of all his rights, until, if his ability is great enough, he becomes a rightless creature delivered as prey to any claimant—while in order to be placed above rights, above principles, above morality, placed 'where anything is permitted to him, even plunder and murder, all a man has to do is to be in need. Do you wonder why the world is collapsing around us? That is what I am fighting. Mr. Rearden. Until men learn that of all human symbols, Robin Hood is the most immoral and the most contemptible, there will be no justice on earth and no way for mankind to survive."

Rearden listened, feeling numb. But under the numbness, like the first thrust of a seed breaking through, he felt an emotion he could not identify except that it seemed familiar and very distant, like something experienced and renounced long ago.

"What I actually am, Mr. Rearden, is a policeman. It is a policeman's duty to protect men from criminals—criminals being those who seize wealth by force. It is a policeman's duty to retrieve stolen property and return it to its owners. But when robbery becomes the purpose of the law, and the policeman's duty becomes, not the protection, but the plunder of property—then it is an outlaw who has to become a policeman."

Ayn Rand

Atlas Shrugged

 

 

The Geometric Mind

 

October 17, 2008

 

 

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Questions like "What's 10 in base 2?" are easy enough to answer (1010), and I've always been able to do these calculations pretty easily.  This was based off the notion the decimal system is a place-value system, and each "place" is respectively of one degree higher than the prior.

For example:

Though unable to do the latter in my head, give me a piece of paper and I can kick these calculations out pretty quickly.

One day, I wondered what π was binary?  We know it's 3.1415 ...... forever - decimal.  What is it binary?  The component to the left of the decimal place is easy enough: 3 base 10 = 11 base 2. 

But what about the part to the right of the decimal point?

I've never - ever - thought of that, nor seen it in a math textbook."

The answer was obvious - of course - after applying a bit of analogic thinking ...

When I developed my first NKS materials for kids, I ran into quite a problem.  How to get a child to draw Rule 123, for example?

 

Where did this picture come from?  I presented the kids diagrams of Rules 0 - 255, and there were to select one they thought was "neat".

You want to draw "Rule 90".

How?

To actually do this, you need to know what "Rule 90" is.

Sure, I could give them this rule, and simply ask them to follow it, but I got to wondering: Is there another way?  What would it take to teach someone binary?  This simple question, and doing a couple problems, got me thinking not algebraically (as we did above), but geometrically - as a sort of "space filling" problem.

From this came my "Binary Blocks".

From this came this poster at NKS 2003 (upper right corner)

Where does the idea of "space filling" come from?  Let's take our "Rule 90" above, and find "90" on the grid below ...

 

Now, let's use the cutouts below the grid to "fill the space", up to 90.

Using the "128" block, I see I've gone too far.  Therefore, the answer to "128 block" is "no".  What about the "64 block"?  Yep - it fits, so it gets a "yes" below.  The next block?  The "32 block" does not fit, and the "16 does".  I'm at 80 now, so what's left are the 8 and 2 blocks to get me to 90. 

 

Where does that leave me ...

 

I know the rule to perform, how to translate decimal to binary, but most important, I've got a visual way of doing this.

Despite the success - both in the experiments as well as the well-received poster presentation, I realized I wasn't on the right path.

However, in my development of the tools for kids to do what they had to do, I had developed a new mental model to perform calculations.

And with this new visual model - the geometric mind - I could attack my "to the right of the decimal point" problem.

Below are the visual representations of 0.001 -> 0.999, in increments of thousands ...

 

 

Somebody Do Somethin'!

 

October 18, 2008

 

 

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A LITERARY EXAMPLE

MOBY DICK

Captain Ahab is clearly nuts.  Well, maybe not clearly.  If my leg was bit off by a whale, likely I'd be seeking vengeance!

But I'm not the Captain.  I'm a harpooner, on board merely to make money for my family.  This captain has a gripe against the White Whale - that's his business.  Mine is making money.

But the Captain is clearly talking about going after Moby Dick.  I want to go after whales - period. 

I'm going to be broke - or dead - or both!

What should I do?

 

 

AN HISTORICAL EXAMPLE

THE MASSACRE AT WOUNDED KNEE

Why are we even here?  These people pose no risk to me - or to anyone.  They've been lied to for decades, and now here they are, surrounded not by angry citizens but the United States military.

I'm one of those armed militia.

I'm surrounding these people as well. 

Somebody's got to do something?  But what can I do?  I'm a soldier, and the job of the soldier is to follow orders, right?  Oh no - now they're taking all the firearms from the Indians.  This is going to be a massacre.  "Somebody" ought to stop this ...

 

 

A PERSONAL EXAMPLE

AUTOMOBILE SALES TAX

My Dad passed away in 2001.  I had his red truck for a while thereafter, and realized it wasn't the vehicle for us.  It was worth quite a bit, and, placing an ad in the local vehicle magazine, got a call immediately.

The buyers came over immediately, and offered cash.  What a deal!

There was one catch: they wanted me to sign the bill of sale saying the cost was $1000 lower than they actually paid.  Why would they want that?  Because they had to pay sales tax on the cost of the car. 

Nobody would know except them - and me.

Who would it hurt? 

 

 

THE COMMON LINK?

What to do?  Sales Tax, Military revolt, and Abandoning Ship?  What might they have in common?

Are there common threads that run throughout different elements of life?  Historically?  Personally?  Literarily?

Can one help solve the other? 

You bet.  This is the essence of the active metaphor!

A key about the "active metaphor" isn't to equate circumstances.  How can you compare anything with Wounded Knee?  That's insulting to Native Americans  - it's insulting to me as well!  But what makes the mere comparison so enticing is it brings clarity to an issue - but from multiple perspectives.  

 

I'll Meet'Cha Halfway

 

The Geometry of Compromise

 

October 19, 2008

 

 

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500 people with differing views on an issue, locked in a room.  Each seeks the one closest to them to resolve their differences.  Unprincipled, they decide to meet "halfway".

What is the geometric outcome?

13-16 iterations to arrive at ...

 

 

 

 

 

 

Public Seating

 

October 20, 2008

 

 

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One day at school, while waiting for the kids, I took a walk over to look carefully at the memorial area pictured above.  It was symmetric.  It was neat. 

But I wondered if anyone ever sat on these benches.

Likely not.

But why?

Do they afford "seating"?

How about this bench below?  What are characteristics of it making it "bench-worthy"?

 

Sure, it's under a huge tree.  Does the tree merely provide shade, or is there an element of "protection" making this a good seat?  That is, consider to benches, identical.  One under a tree, one out in the open.  Which is better?

Who is the arbiter of "better"?

Use?

Another thing I like about this bench is it's the right size for two strangers.  Many benches are sized, unfortunately, so one person sitting actually occupies the whole bench, because a stranger would not sit next to them - their proximity close.  However, the bench above is big enough so two strangers could comfortably sit on opposite ends of the bench, with their space "unviolated".

What could we do to the memorial bench-area above to make it more "user-friendly"?

First off, why not remove the benches from inside the area?  They crowd the tree.

Also, this is a K-6 school.  Notice the square ledge around the tree.  This is a perfect width for young kids to safely walk on. 

These two thoughts above coincide.  Who would want to walk on the ledge with the fear of being shoved off by kids sitting on the bench?  Also, who would want to sit on the bench with young kids walking around them?

OK - we've got the benches off the elevated area.  What do we do with them?

Right now, that question can't be answered, because we don't know when the kids will be out here.  For how long?  To eat lunch outside?  During recess?  A reading time?

The bench under the tree, above, is often used by adults watching their kids play sports.  It's perfect for that.  It is tilted, and has a back rest. 

What of our six kids benches? 

Form and function, running side by side.

It would be a neat experiment.  Move the benches around.  See what works.  We've got a bit of theory in play above.  Let's integrate a bit of practice and see what happens!

Are there "Patterns" that can help us?  Of course.  In A Pattern Language, Christopher Alexander describes a pattern as "a problem which occurs over and over again in our environment, and then describes the core of the solution to that problem, in such a way that you can use this solution a million times over, without ever doing it the same way twice.

Of course there is a pattern for out situation:

Pattern 241:  SEAT SPOTS

"Where outdoor seats are set down without regard for view and climate, they will almost certainly be useless."

We made random spot checks on selected benches in Berkeley, California, and recorded these facts about each bench: Was it occupied or empty?  Did it give a view of current activity or not?  Was it in the sun or not?  What was the current wind velocity?  Three of the eleven benches were occupied; eight were empty.

At the moment of observation, all three occupied benches looked onto activity, were in the sun, and had a wind velocity of less than 1.5 feet per second.  At the moment of observation, none of the eight empty benches had all three of these characteristics.  Three of them had shelter and activity but no sun; three of them had activity but no sun, and wind greater than 3 feet per second; two of them had sun and shelter but no activity ...

Choosing good spots for outdoor seats is far more important than building fancy benches.  Indeed, if the spot is right, the most simple kind of seat is perfect.

In cool climates, choose them to face the sun, and to be protected from the wind; in hot climates, put them in shade and open to summer breezes.  In both cases, place them to face activities.

 

 

 

No Taxation - EVEN WITH Representation!

 

October 21, 2008

 

 

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ROLLIN' ROLLIN' ROLLIN'

The Rise and Fall of Me: The Prairie Schooner

 

I AM A WAGON, ROLLING PROUD!

ACROSS THE PRAIRIE, I  TALK ALOUD!

THE OXEN IN FRONT - LEADING THE WAY

TO THE HEART OF SANTA FE!

 

WE'RE ALMOST THERE - THE TRIP ENDURED.

THE GOODS ARE CHECKED - THEY ARE SECURED.

WHAT'S THIS, I WONDER - I'M BEING EMPTIED?

I'M IN TACT! TO WHAT IS THIS A REMEDY?

 

A MATCH ABLAZE - AND SET TO ME?

I'M IN PERFECT SHAPE!  HOW CAN THIS BE?

WHAT'S IT ALL ABOUT?  WHAT ARE THE FACTS?

THE LAST WORDS I HEAR: "I AIN'T PAYIN' NO $500 TAX!"

 

"The river crossing at San Miguel was the perfect place for the fledgling government of Mexico to set up a "Port of Entry" for collecting taxes on goods coming into Mexico over the Santa Fe Trail. In the early years it was here that wagon trains were inventoried and taxes were collected.

Taxes levied on goods coming from the United States were an important source of income for the local economy. It has been claimed that the tax on wagon trains was the first source of revenue for the government of the newly independent country of Mexico.

Government officials eventually tired of having to inventory every item in every wagon, so they decided to tax each wagon $500, regardless of how much, or little, it contained. The traders bringing goods over the Trail were entrepreneurs in every sense of the word. It didn't take long before they started figuring out ways to pay the least tax possible. (A popular American pastime!)

The smaller, rugged, Missouri-built wagons were suddenly replaced by the monstrous "swaybacked" Conestoga freight wagons that are now the very symbol of the Santa Fe Trail. By bringing all your goods in one big wagon instead of several smaller ones, you could build a house with the savings in taxes.

The second thing that started was the practice of wagon burning. Each wagon left Missouri with crates and barrels containing two months worth of food and supplies for both teamster and livestock. Wagons were now just days away from Santa Fe, and those provisions were just about gone. By filling that empty space with cargo from other wagons, entire wagons in a wagon train could be eliminated altogether. To keep from having to pay taxes on the empty wagons, they simply burned them beside the Trail.

The practice of charging a flat $500 per wagon lasted only a few years so the practice of wagon burning subsided. One traveler on the Trail, though, wrote that the grizzled old veterans on the Trail enjoyed scaring newcomers as they happened upon the remains of these burned-out wagons. Instead of stories of tax evasion, these piles of ash and iron were offered as evidence of previous Indian attacks, terror and bloodshed."

http://www.santafetrailnm.org/sfthistory.html

 

 

A General State of Dissatisfaction

 

October 22, 2008

 

 

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I've written about nonsense like the above in earlier entries, more along the lines of how did we get here?  How does an environment get created where commuters are offered incentives to flee the city, and roads expanded to appeal to the fleeing commuters?  Talk about a viscous cycle, perpetuating the above - CREATING the above!

No.  That's the mechanics of what happens.

Here, I'm talking about what this does to me - literally - as a person, caught in this vehicular mayhem we've come to call "progress".

Is this what I signed up for?

Is this "progress"?

Is this happiness?

Of course not.

But what would a "Happy Environment" look like?

 

The Forest and the Trees

I've never been a great "forest" type of thinker, so it's hard for me to start with a broad question like this.  Moreover, it's also hard for me, at times, to start with requirements to achieve success.  "What would it take to do this and that?" frequently don't get me moving on a problem.

I don't have the intuition to answer the question.

However, focus me on negatives and a general idea of what to look for and I'm a quick learner.

For example, our "seating area" entry above focused on 6 benches nobody every sat on.  That's bad design.  What would make it a good design?  Let's hold that question, and just start bitching about things.  That's easy to do.

Crossing the main road in our area is like playing the old game of "Frogger" ... traffic coming directions, you have to leap out into the intersection, and wait for cross traffic to clear.  Of course, you must angle your car, or your trunk sticks out into oncoming traffic from the other direction.

Absolutely poor design!

At our elementary school, the front doors are controlled by a buzzer.  Push a button, the receptionist sees it's you, and let's you in.  Easy enough.  Can never have enough security!

But one day I was in the office when someone else was outside, buzzing.  My god it was loud!  I was annoyed after one person, and here these people working in the office had to put up with it all day!  I can't imagine.

Absolutely poor design.

Let's stop for a moment.

Why is it poor design?  What is the standard of "good design?"

Maybe, generally, it's happiness.  That can't be it.  My goal in crossing the street is not "happiness".  It's getting across the street.  That's all.  And it drives me nuts to think city planners created such a hazardous driving system!

But the poor driving system manifests itself in my NOT feeling happy.  On the contrary, I'm cussing at the approaching driver to move his $%^$% while yelling at the honking driver approaching my backside to go to $^%%$%$!  No, I'd say I'm not too happy.

And this is a simple example - one of 10,000 interactions we have throughout the day.

I've thinking of other examples where poor design leads to bad things, from my alarm clock with the multiple volumes to the damn toilet valve that leaks so slightly the water runs all day.  There's lots of things that grind at me when I think about it.

But would fixing bad design alleviate frustration?  Is "efficiency" the goal?  Is that what this - living - is all about?

 

 

I just saw the movie "Shall We Dance", starring Richard Gere, that, to me, wonderfully addresses this question:  what's it all about?  Caught in a rut - the apex of efficiency - and a person starts to wonder, "What's it all about?"

 

From Dancing to Living

The movement is on to incorporate "Green" technologies.  Can we use the sun more effectively in capturing solar energy?  You bet!  We've got an aquifer in the midwest the size of the midwest.  Can it be used to create hydro-electricity?  Someone try it!  Can our homes be made more energy efficient with new technologies?  Of course.

 

But a word just crept in: "efficient". 

 

Above, I realized that was not my goal, yet here it is again!

 

And I realize any type of change may provide increased happiness - short-term, but unless the GOAL is addressed, I've got problems.

 

What is the goal?

 

What's it all about?

 

 

 

"Chloro-phyll"-osophic

 

I Wish I Knew ...

 

October 23, 2008

 

 

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round@rationalsys.com

Our neighborhood is starting to become very colorful, as we move past the 1-month marker into fall.  The Autumn.  Leaves changing colors.  It's beautiful.

 

But why do they change color?

We know the answer.  Everyone knows the answer.  "It's because of chlorophyll".

That's it?

I don't get it.

Let's see if Wikipedia clarifies the issue, at all ...

"Chlorophyll is a green pigment found in most plants, algae, and cyanobacteria. Its name is derived from Greek: χλωρός (chloros "green") and φύλλον (phyllon "leaf"). Chlorophyll absorbs light most strongly in the blue and red but poorly in the green portions of the electromagnetic spectrum, hence the green colour of chlorophyll-containing tissues like plant leaves."

Wikipedia Opening Paragraph

 

You may get it, but I still don't.  So we're off to the logical races!

 

A Shot Across the Leaf-Bow

Yes, chlorophyll has something to do with the changing of the leave's colors, but what?  What is the process by which this happens?  Does the green pigment "fall off", or erode, in the fall?  Is that why I no longer see "green leaves"?

 

I don't think so.

 

Is there a certain amount of "red" and "green" IN the leaves, and, throughout the year, each are more dominant than the other?

 

How could I model this in Excel?

 

 

OK ... that's the theory.  Let's adjust the "green transparencies", and see what we come up with - in practice!

 

 

Awesome!  Exactly what I wanted to happen!  But I've only got a model simulating gradual growth from green to red.  The question is:  IS THIS WHAT HAPPENS IN LEAVES?

If the green pigment is not "falling off the leaf", what would cause it to become "more transparent", or perhaps equivalently, the red "more dominant"?

Somehow, the sun plays a role in this.  Certain colors absorb light better, reflect light, etc.  I'm not sure how that is the case, and I'll take that up in a later write-up.  What I do know is I've used an earlier post to highlight a graph of the amount of sunlight during the year.  Why not now integrate my "leaf-coloring-simulation" into that graphic - and, while I'm at it, write a logical haiku summarizing all of this!

 

A Thursday Morning Entry

Nature, science, math, astronomy, graphing, programming, logic, and poetry - plus a lot of open questions to field.  Not a bad way to start a day!

 

 

"It May be Mere Face Paint to You"

 

October 24, 2008

 

 

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With the Halloween season upon us, it's time to revisit a study in productivity heroism.  As Abraham Lincoln, "it's altogether fitting and proper that we should do this."

The plant, Tiro Industries, is not relevant to this story.

Making face paint for Halloween costumes is not relevant to this story.

What is their story?

 

Face paint - and any product that you pick from a shelf - has a unique history.  It has a story.  They had a story.

They worked the midnight shift at a factor in downtown St. Paul, Minnesota.  It was early 80s.  They were kids.  They worked on an assembly line.  They made face paint.

How does one do that?

The lead person takes the mold and loads the slim paint holders.

The second person crimps the bottom of the tube so the paint will not fall out the bottom.

The third person places the mold under the paint filling machine, and put the template in - and took it out of - the refrigerator.

The fourth person crimped the top of the tubes - so the paint would not come out the top, checked to makes sure the tubes were all clean,- and emptied the now full tubes into a box.

 

Sounds pretty easy - and pretty boring.

It was.

They decided they were going to set a plant record.  Every day, they would shoot for a new record.

How?

They saw lots of things wrong.  For example, after the tubes were complete, there were still a lot of dirty tubes.  They'd go through the whole process, and then get rejected.  What a waste.

They also went on breaks together.  That was down time.  When everybody went on breaks together, no product was produced.  But what was the alternative? 

The filler noticed something about the machine.  It was a foot-operated machine, where the mold was placed under the machine, the pedal would start the machine, eight sprays would engage to a certain height, and they would automatically shut off. 

The problem was it took a while seconds to restart each time.  Why?  Who knows!  Remember, these were mere kids!  The next mold goes under the sprays, engage foot, wait a few seconds, and the process repeats.

Frustrating.

How they found this out, I don't know.  Perhaps by accident, perhaps by frustration.  However, when the foot was kept on the pedal, the process moved rapidly, never stopping.  It was set to automatic!  The sprayers would fire for about 5 seconds, and there was about a 5 second delay, and they would fire again - regardless of whether you had a mold in place!

This meant they could do many more face-paint tubes, but it also meant the filler always had to have a mold ready to put in the machine.  No mold, the machine fires, paint everywhere.  What a mess!

So this became the key point they focused on in the process: if you have to go to the bathroom, for example, you had to make sure you had enough work built up so the next person had work to do to keep the machine running.

It was sweet.

They produced no defects, because their work area was spotless.  Defects don't make it to end pallet - they get discarded.  So the most important quality person in this regard wasn't the quality-checker at the end of the process, it was the quality checker at the beginning of the process!  Many times, the initial tubes were already dirty!  Get rid of them right there!

How long did all this take to figure out?

My recollection this group of brave assembly line soldiers did it in one day.

Work was going to be fun.

Could they keep this up all day?  Surprisingly, close to "yes".  They took quick lunch breaks, and they also could monitor the progress at the work area.  Remember, the machine could be set to automatic.  That's where the real work was done.  But it also could be switched to manual.  A chance to "catch their breaths", and perform "resets", as they came to call them, which simply meant "Everybody take a moment and get organized."

But they also knew any moment that filler machine was not set to automatic they were losing time they could never recapture. 

That was the key.

Everything was focused on keeping that one machine, set to automatic, busy!

And there were mistakes, of course.  You fill a mold with eight tubes with paint, put it into the freezer, and it gets caught on the lip of the shelf.  It tips.  Spills everywhere.  Not often, but what a mess!  What they realized was this:  get it absolutely clean. If it's the least bit dirty, the errant paint now on the mold gets passed to every work station.

If this workstation is clean, everything stays clean.

They also realized, when this happened, it was a great chance to take a break.  You couldn't help the cleaner because there's only so much room for a person at a freezer.  Get your work done, build an inventory in front of the filler, and take a quick break.

Genius?

Of course not.  Mere common sense.

They discovered common sense ways to improve their movements to ensure speed.  The paint-filler, for example, had always put the molds in the freezer, taken them out, but sometimes been confused about which one had been in the longest.  The team had about 16 molds in motion, about half always in the freezer.  There was a certain time a mold had to be in the freezer for optimal storage and packing.  He was often taking out the wrong one, and then realized he was taking them from the wrong end.  What a mess - leading to frustration, inconsistency of product, and slowdowns.

What to do?

The simple thing was to keep them aligned ...

 

But it wasn't enough to merely line them up, because it's still easy to lose track of which one is the "next to come out".  The solution is easy enough, right?  Take the mold from the far-right out, slide the remaining seven over, and insert the newest mold.

Easy enough, right?

Of course, when you actually do this, you see the folly in it.  It's hard to slide them over when you're holding a full mold full of fluid!

The key was always making sure there was immediately room for the newest mold.  That meant simply reversing a couple of the steps above.  The newest one goes in first.  The oldest one comes out second - with the right hand.  You see what happens, right?  It takes but a couple tries to realize, while the right hand is removing the oldest mold, the left hand is sliding the remaining seven over, making room for the next new mold!

 

The key was ensuring the freezer always looked like this:

 

Perfect consistency of product.  Pure common sense. 

How many other slight modifications did they make as a team resulting not just in improved quantity, but a general work environment more good?  They are uncountable.

The psychology of the work place came into the game.  They worked the midnight to 8:00 shift, and when they were done, you never had a full pallet at the end, which means they never got a full pallet when we started their shift. 

So what?

The crew who finished a pallet got credit for the whole pallet!

Of course, it didn't take long for the 4-midnight shift to see the folly in letting the midnight crew "get a running start".  Likely they tired quickly of hearing how good the midnight shift was doing!   They would provide our midnight shift with a fresh pallet, nothing on it.  How did they do this?  It meant they were shutting down their line 15 minutes early!  What a waste!

So our heroic band of assembly-line warriors went day-to-day, always trying to break their records, dashing to the bathroom, taking quick lunches, producing near perfect product, and having one hell-of-a-fun-time doing it!

The most product produced - with uniform consistency - with zero defects - with the cleanest work area with the greatest fun.  What a team!

 

--------------------------------

So, when you buy your Halloween costumes for your kids, and the kit contains face paint, stop, if you will, and try to imagine the scene described above.

Smile.

 

 

Zooming in to See a Picture of Yourself

 

October 25, 2008

 

 

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Zooming and - the Nature of Self-Similarity

 

My Own Program

Of course, above I'm using another Mandelbrot program to do all of this calculation, and I've written a simple program to do this - in Excel.

Let's take a look at the amount of calculations going on here:

An unbelievable amount of calculations are going on here.  In fact, I would wager there was more math done in the creation of this graph than in the history of civilization - combined - prior to the 1960s.  The modern computer has made this possible.

A bit of playing around showed how this graph looks when different "maximum iterations" are tried.  Recall, this field is the maximum amount of effort we're going to put into testing numbers to see if the eventual distance "escapes".  Normally, the pattern repeats itself, goes to zero, or heads off to infinity. 

Taking a random number from the above graph NOT IN the mandelbrot set, I wanted to see what happened to this point.

The graph below shows what happens.

The pattern is remarkably consistent - until about iteration 750, when it started to "wobble" a bit - and then took off to infinity!

Zooming in, even at this magnification, it's hard to see what happened!

 

 

Revisiting "The Fairness Doctrine"

 

October 26, 2008

 

 

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The following article was recently published, attacking the political movement to re-establish "The Fairness Doctrine":

 

 

"Any material element or resource which, in order to become of use or value to men, requires the application of human knowledge and effort, should be private property—by the right of those who apply the knowledge and effort.

 

This is particularly true of broadcasting frequencies or waves, because they are produced by human action and do not exist without it. What exists in nature is only the potential and the space through which those waves must travel.

 

Just as two trains cannot travel on the same section of track at the same time, so two broadcasts cannot use the same frequency at the same time in the same area without "jamming" each other. There is no difference in principle between the ownership of land and the ownership of airways. The only issue is the task of defining the application of property rights to this particular sphere. It is on this task that the American government has failed dismally, with incalculably disastrous consequences.

 

There is no essential difference between a broadcast and a concert: the former merely transmits sounds over a longer distance and requires more complex technical equipment. No one would venture to claim that a pianist may own his fingers and his piano, but the space inside the concert hall—through which the sound waves he produces travel—is "public property" and, therefore, he has no right to give a concert without a license from the government. Yet this is the absurdity foisted on our broadcasting industry.

 

The chief argument in support of the notion that broadcasting frequencies should be "public property" has been stated succinctly by Justice Frankfurter: "[Radio] facilities are limited; they are not available to all who may wish to use them; the radio spectrum simply is not large enough to accommodate everybody. There is a fixed natural limitation upon the number of stations that can operate without interfering with one another."

 

The fallacy of this argument is obvious. The number of broadcasting frequencies is limited; so is the number of concert halls; so is the amount of oil or wheat or diamonds; so is the acreage of land on the surface of the globe. There is no material element or value that exists in unlimited quantity. And if a "wish" to use a certain "facility" is the criterion of  the right to use it, then the universe is simply not large enough to accommodate all those who harbor wishes for the unearned.

 

 It is the proper task of the government to protect individual rights and, as part of it, to formulate the laws by which these rights are to be implemented and adjudicated. It is the government's responsibility to define the application of individual rights to a given sphere of activity—to define (i.e., to identify), not to create, invent, donate, or expropriate. The question of defining the application of property rights has arisen frequently, in the wake of major scientific discoveries or inventions, such as the question of oil rights, vertical space rights, etc. In most cases, the American government was guided by the proper principle: it sought to protect all the individual rights involved, not to abrogate them.

 

 A notable example of the proper method of establishing private ownership from scratch, in a previously ownerless area, is the Homestead Act of 1862, by which the government opened the western frontier for settlement and turned "public land" over to private owners. The government offered a 160-acre farm to any adult citizen who would settle on it and cultivate it for five years, after which it would become his property. Although that land was originally regarded, in law, as "public property," the method of its allocation, in/act, followed the proper principle (in /act, but not in explicit ideological intention). The citizens did not have to pay the government as if it were an owner; ownership began with them, and they earned it by the method which is the source and root of the concept of "property": by working on unused material resources, by turning a wilderness into a civilized settlement. Thus, the government, in this case, was acting not as the owner but as the custodian of ownerless resources who defines objectively impartial rules by which potential owners may acquire them.

 

 This should have been the principle and pattern of the allocation of broadcasting frequencies. As soon as it became apparent that radio broadcasting had opened a new realm of material resources which, in the absence of legal definitions, would become a wilderness of clashing individual claims, the government should have promulgated the equivalent of a Homestead Act of the airways—an act defining private property rights in the new realm, establishing the rule that the user of a radio frequency would own it after he had operated a station for a certain number of years, and allocating all frequencies by the rule of priority, i.e., "first come, first served."

 

Bear in mind that the development of commercial radio took many years of struggle and experimentation, and that the goldrush of the "wishers" did not start until the pioneers—who had taken the risks of venturing into the unknown—had built it into a bright promise of great commercial value. By what right, code, or standard was anyone entitled to that value except the men who had created it?

 

If the government had adhered to the principle of private property rights, and the pioneers' ownership had been legally established, then a latecomer who wished to acquire a radio station would have had to buy it from one of the original owners (as is the case with every other type of property). The fact that the number of available frequencies was limited would have served, not to entrench the original owners, but to threaten their hold, if they did not make the best economic use of their property (which is what free competition does to every other type of property). With a limited supply and a growing demand, competition would have driven the market value of a radio (and later, TV) station so high that only the most competent men could have afforded to buy it or to keep it; a man, unable to make a profit, could not have long afforded to waste so valuable a property. Who, on a free market, determines the economic success or failure of an enterprise? The public (the public as a sum of individual producers, viewers, and listeners, each making his own decisions—not as a single, helpless, disembodied collective with a few bureaucrats posturing as the spokesmen of its will on earth).

 

Contrary to the "argument from scarcity," if you want to make a "limited" resource available to the whole people, make it private property and throw it on a free, open market.

 

The "argument from scarcity," incidentally, is outdated, even in its literal meaning: with the discovery of ultra-high frequencies, there are more broadcasting channels available today than prospective applicants willing to pioneer in their development. As usual, the "wishers" seek, not to create, but to take over the rewards and advantages created by others.

 

The history of the collectivization of radio and television demonstrates, in condensed form, in a kind of microcosm, the process and the causes of capitalism's destruction. It is an eloquent illustration of the fact that capitalism is perishing by the philosophical default of its alleged defenders.

 

Collectivists frequently cite the early years of radio as an example of the failure of free enterprise. In those years, when broadcasters had no property rights in radio, no legal protection or recourse, the airways were a chaotic no man's land where anyone could use any frequency he pleased and jam anyone else. Some professional broadcasters tried to divide their frequencies by private agreements, which they could not enforce on others; nor could they fight the interference of stray, maliciously mischievous amateurs. This state of affairs was used, then and now, to urge and justify government control of radio.

 

This is an instance of capitalism taking the blame for the evils of its enemies.

 

The chaos of the airways was an example, not of free enterprise, but of anarchy. It was caused, not by private property rights, but by their absence. It demonstrated why capitalism is incompatible with anarchism, why men do need a government and what is a government's proper function. What was needed was legality, not controls.

 

What was imposed was worse than controls: outright nationalization. By a gradual, uncontested process—by ideological default—it was taken for granted that the airways belong to "the people" and are "public property."

 

If you want to know the intellectual state of the time, I will ask you to guess the political ideology of the author of the following quotation:

Radio communication is not to be considered as merely a business carried on for private gain, for private advertisement, or for entertainment of the curious. It is a public concern impressed with the public trust and to be considered primarily from the standpoint of public interest in the same extent and upon the basis of the same general principles as our other public utilities.

 

No, this was not said by a business-hating collectivist eager to establish the supremacy of the "public interest" over "private gain"; it was not said by a socialist planner nor by a communist conspirator; it was said by Herbert Hoover, then Secretary of Commerce, in 1924.

 

It was Hoover who fought for government control of radio and, as Secretary of Commerce, made repeated attempts to extend government power beyond the limits set by the legislation of the time, attempts to attach detailed conditions to radio licenses, which he had no legal authority to do and which were repeatedly negated by the courts. It was Hoover's influence that was largely responsible for that tombstone of the radio (and the then unborn television) industry known as the Act of 1927, which established the Federal Radio Commission with all of its autocratic, discretionary, undefined, and undefinable powers. (That Act—with minor revisions and amendments, including the Act  1934 that changed the Federal Radio Commission into the Federal Communications Commission—is still, in all essential respects, the basic legal document ruling the broadcasting industry today.)

 

"What we are doing," said F.C.C. Chairman Newton N. Minow in 1962, "did not begin with the New Frontier." He was right.

 

The Act of 1927 did not confine the government to the role of a traffic policeman of the air who protects the rights of broadcasters from technical interference (which is all that was needed and all that a government should properly do). It established service to the "public interest, convenience, or necessity" as the criterion by which the Federal Radio Commission was to judge applicants for broadcasting licenses and accept or reject them. Since there is no such thing as the "public interest" (other than the sum of the individual inter-eats of individual citizens), since that collectivist catch-phrase has never been and can never be defined, it amounted to a blank check on totalitarian power over the broadcasting industry, granted to whatever bureaucrats happened to be appointed to the Commission.

 

"The public interest"—that intellectual knife of collectivism's sacrificial guillotine, which the operators of broadcasting stations have to test by placing their heads on the block every three years—was not raised over their heads by capitalism's enemies, but by their own leaders.

 

It was the so-called "conservatives"—including some of the pioneers, some of the broadcasting industry's executives who, today, are complaining and protesting—who ran to the government for regulations and controls, who cheered the notion of "public property" and service to the "public interest," and thus planted the seeds of which Mr. Minow and Mr. Henry are merely the logical, consistent flowers. The broadcasting industry was enslaved with the sanction of the victims—but they were not fully innocent victims.

 

Many businessmen, of the mixed-economy persuasion, resent the actual nature of capitalism; they believe that it is safer to hold a position, not by right, but by favor; they dread the competition of a free market and they feel that a bureaucrat's friendship is much easier to win. Pull, not merit, is their form of "social security." They believe that they will always succeed at courting, pressuring, or bribing a bureaucrat, who is "a good fellow" they can "get along with" and who will protect them from that merciless stranger: the abler competitor.

 

Consider the special privileges to be found in the status of a certified servant of the "public interest" and a licensed user of "public property." Not only does it place a man outside the reach of economic competition, but it also spares him the responsibility and the costs entailed in private property. It grants him gratuitously the use of a broadcasting frequency for which he would have had to pay an enormous price on a free market and would not have been able to keep for long, if he sent forth through the air the kind of unconscionable trash he is sending forth today.

 

Such are the vested interests made possible by the doctrine of the "public interest"—and such are the beneficiaries of any form, version, or degree of the doctrine of "public property."

 

Now observe the practical demonstration of the fact that without property rights, no other rights are possible. If censorship and the suppression of free speech ever get established in this country, they will have originated in radio and television.

 

The Act of 1927 granted to a government Commission total power over the professional fate of broadcasters, with the "public interest" as the criterion of judgment—and, simultaneously, forbade the Commission to censor radio programs. From the start, and progressively louder through the years, many voices have been pointing out that this is a contradiction impossible to practice. If a commissioner has to judge which applicant for a broadcasting license will best serve the "public interest," how can he judge it without judging the content, nature, and value of the programs the applicants have offered or will offer?

 

If capitalism had had any proper intellectual defenders, it is they who should have been loudest in opposing a contradiction of that kind. But such was not the case: it was the statists who seized upon it, not in defense of free speech, but  in support of the Commission's "right" to censor programs. And, so long as the criterion of the "public interest" stood unchallenged, logic was on the side of the statists.

 

The result was what it had to be (illustrating once more the power of basic principles): by gradual, unobtrusive, progressively accelerating steps, the Commission enlarged its control over the content of radio and television programs—leading to the open threats and ultimatums of Mr. Minow, who merely made explicit what had been known implicitly for many years. No, the Commission did not censor specific programs: it merely took cognizance of program content at license-renewal time. What was established was worse than open censorship (which could be knocked out in a court of law): it was the unprovable, intangible, insidious censorship-by-displeasure—the usual, and only, result of any non-objective legislation.(1)

 

All media of communication influence one another. It is impossible to compute the extent to which the gray, docile, fear-ridden, appeasement-minded mediocrity of so powerful a medium as television has contributed to the demoralization of our culture.

 

Nor can the freedom of one medium of communication be destroyed without affecting all the others. When censorship of radio and television becomes fully accepted, as a fait accompli, it will not be long before all the other media—books, magazines, newspapers, lectures—follow suit, unobtrusively, unofficially, and by the same method: overtly, in the name of the "public interest"; covertly, for fear of government reprisals. (This process is taking place already.)

 

So much for the relationship of "human" rights to property rights.

 

Since "public property" is a collectivist fiction, since the public as a whole can neither use nor dispose of its "property,'' that "property" will always be taken over by some political "elite," by a small clique which will then rule the public—a public of literal, dispossessed proletarians.

 

If you want to gauge a collectivist theory's distance from reality, ask yourself: by what inconceivable standard can it be claimed that the broadcasting airways are the property of some illiterate sharecropper who will never be able to grasp the concept of electronics, or of some hillbilly whose engineering capacity is not quite sufficient to cope with a corn-liquor still—and that broadcasting, the product of an incalculable amount of scientific genius, is to be ruled by the will of such owners?

 

Remember that this literally is the alleged principle at the base of the entire legal structure of our broadcasting industry.

 

There is only one solution to this problem, and it has to start at the base; nothing less will do. The airways should be turned over to private ownership. The only way to do it now is to sell radio and television frequencies to the highest bidders (by an objectively defined, open, impartial process)—and thus put an end to the gruesome fiction of "public property.''

 

Such a reform cannot be accomplished overnight; it will take a long struggle; but that is the ultimate goal which the advocates of capitalism should bear in mind. That is the only way to correct the disastrous, atavistic error made by capitalism's alleged defenders.

 

I say "atavistic," because it took many centuries before primitive, nomadic tribes of savages reached the concept of private property—specifically, land property, which marked the beginning of civilization. It is a tragic irony that in the presence of a new realm opened by a gigantic achievement of science, our political and intellectual leaders reverted to the mentality of primitive nomads and, unable to conceive of property rights, declared the new realm to be a tribal hunting ground.

 

The breach between man's scientific achievements and his ideological development is growing wider every day. It is time to realize that men cannot keep this up much longer if they continue to retrogress to ideological savagery with every step of scientific progress.

 

 

(1) See my articles "Have Gun, Will Nudge" and "Vast Quicksands" in The Objectivist Newsletter, March 1962 and July 1963. For a graphic report on the state of the television industry, see Edith Efron's articles "TV: The Timid Giant" and "Why the Timid Giant Treads Softly" in TV Guide, May 18 and August 10, 1963.

 

By Ayn Rand

Originally in The Objectivist Newsletter, April 1964.

 

YES, UNBELIEVABLY, THIS WAS WRITTEN IN 1964.

 

 

 

 

53 - 47

 

October 27, 2008

 

 

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round@rationalsys.com

Yes, 53 - 47.  The popular vote.  In favor of ... McCain!

Is this optimistic thinking?  Is this realistic thinking?  How can this be when Senator Obama is ahead by 4 with a week-and-a-half to go?

Where are we, right now?  What is the make-up of our political country?  An estimate:

 

Right now, we're told Senator Obama is ahead by about 6 percentage points.  We know the polls reflect a disproportionate number of Democrats (Senator Frank: should we regulate polling and surveys?), but let's paint a worst-case scenario here. 

Of the 45% Democrats, let's assume none would ever vote for a Republican.  Maybe Reagan.  Certainly not McCain.  Republicans, on the other hand, would cross over, for many reasons, a main one being the mere disgust for McCain as the "maverick".  Secure our borders, Senator McCain, and leave campaign financing and baseball alone!

Fine.

We have some cross-over, leading to a 6% Obama lead, with 10% undecided.

Let's assume our non-intellectual 10% in the middle split down the middle: 5 for McCain, 5 for Obama.  This leads to a 53 - 47 win - for Obama.

But my prediction is 53 - 47 for McCain!  How can this be?

Let's call this the "current state of the system".

Senator Obama's connections with people of questionable character are finally receiving a bit of scrutiny.  We know a bit more about Bill Ayers, and a lot of what Obama has said is simply wrong.  We know a bit more about the house-deal he received from Resco.

We know a bit more about "spreading the wealth".  This is nothing new.  However, new information does come out daily.  We now know, in 2001, he was looking for the courts to address the problem of redistribution.  We know there have been talks of Senator Clinton being appointed a justice!  My goodness!  What are the chances of this happening?  Probably little.  But the possibility?

What happens if both the House and the Senate, in addition to the President, are all Democrat?  At least there is a check on McCain if he wins.

I need to update my graph of "20th Century Politics", showing the relationship between the three, integrating the make-up of the Supreme Court, for the last 8 years ...

 

What has this to do with Obama running for President?

Maybe nothing.  Maybe everything.  Maybe all of this - taking in the aggregate - eats at the minds of those "undecided".  It can be summarized in a word:  anxiety.

The "Bradley Effect" is a phenomenon where a white surveyed voter, asked about a black candidate, says "Oh yes, I'm voting for him", but while actually in the booth, does not.  Why not merely tell the truth to the surveyer?  The person surveyed is frightened they will be perceived "racist" by saying "no", the implication the "no" is due to race.

So the "Bradley Effect" is not a voter going into the booth saying "I just can't vote for a black person".  The person had no intention of voting that way in the first place - they were just scared to say it.

Maybe it's because of race - maybe it's because of politics.

The phenomenon I'm predicting is not like this.  Instead, it's that undecided voter, walking into the booth likely still undecided, and then, considering everything they know which leads to a huge amount of uncertainty and anxiety, says, "I just can't vote for ..... this".  They can't put a word to it, except anxiety.  It's not a vote for McCain, but simply a vote against Obama.

Fine.

But this doesn't lead to a 53 - 47 McCain win.  Where is the rest coming from?

What's been coming out recently?  ACORN is all over the nation, and it's finally making news.  This is not a new thing.  However, now, finally, the media is covering it.  Actual ideas of Senator Obama are also being talked about.  A responsible news media would have done this months ago.  They're still irresponsible, but thankfully the world is inundated with alternative modes of communication.

What does this do to a base? 

Last election, 72% of eligible voters were registered, and 64% voted.  It's easier to vote now.  Those who didn't saw little in President Bush, and less in Kerrey.  What have things like ACORN done to people like that? 

I'm a person like that!

This nonsense alone has angered me to vote!  Not for McCain, but instead against this nonsense parading as "get-out-the-vote", the mainstream media, etc.

Any surveying taken today does not take into account people who would not have voted, but now have decided to vote!

Therefore, my prediction:

 

 

The Rest of the Story

But this is the popular vote.  53-47 McCain.  It's says nothing about the electoral college.  What will happen there?  The "anger" vote I've talked about above likely will solidify areas already McCain.  What about Ohio?  What about Florida?  What about Pennsylvania?  This is where the real action will take place.

Should Obama win the electoral college, it will be due to disproportionate results in the urban core.

And the same critics who denounced the electoral college as antiquated will now praise it's virtue.

I make no prediction about the electoral college.  Therefore, I make no prediction about the outcome of the presidential race.  Who could?  With Ohio a toss-up state and the election laws becoming more malleable by the minute, who could? 

But the red state / blue state map - broken down by counties in 2004 to reveal two Americas - will become even more separated.

 

There will be an amendment to the Constitution about the electoral college.  This amendment will call for states to distribute their electoral votes proportionate to the popular votes within their state.  A 51-49 vote will no longer result in the allocation of electorates 17-0, for example.

It will be a good move.

But it is a limited move.  Clearly, neither Senator Obama nor Senator McCain have any idea what individual rights are, or what their relationship is to the proper role of government.  Further, the former attacks the current economic crisis as the result of capitalism; the latter is unable to defend capitalism, and, as such, both are intellectually dangerous.

And the media - the journalists - the last bastion of "objectivity"?  It's integrity has been breached, whether intentionally or accidentally.  This noble profession long ago decided truth was relative, and "we just give the people what they want", ignoring the obvious - that the media plays a big role in what the public wants.

So any movement to alter the electoral make-up is to no good end if the protection of individual rights and our capitalist form of politico-economic are left to the whim of the electorate.

Right now, there are two Americas.  This election will only polarize what we have now.  And individual rights and a proper form of government will be in a free-fall.  The results?  The Free State Project will pick up exponential speed, and within four years, will put our country a second time in the position of dealing with state succession.

 

 

My prediction ...

Respectfully submitted ...

October 27, 2008

 

 

The Lattice Method of Multiplication

 

And Simultaneously Changing the World

 

October 28, 2008

 

 

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round@rationalsys.com

Most changes in mathematical curriculum, I believe, have moved us in the wrong direction.  Most attempts to appeal to children working in groups, try lots of things, guess, there are many ways to solve the problem, etc., have been dismal failures.

I've written specifically why in other places.

But there is one method I absolutely love:  what kids have come to call the "Lattice Method" of multiplication.

Two examples: 

A few reasons why I like this method: 

1. I don't lose my place when I'm carrying, and multipling, and adding, etc., because the multiplication of each of the pairs of numbers essentially stands alone, it's impossible for me to lose my place!;

 

2. The data is right in front of me to check my work;

 

3. An adult can learn how to do this by simply looking at these two examples, and a kid can be taught it quickly; and

 

4. It's not a gimmick.  God, I'm tired of gimmicks or tricks to "get" the right answers.

 

But I do have one objection:  the name. 

This may now be called the Lattice Method, but it was not always so.  At one time, this method was called Napier's Bones:

 

They were named after one of my favorite mathematicians of all time:  John Napier.  But this is not the reason he's one of my favorites.  Instead, it's what he did intellectually that helped us understand the universe physically.

Imagine you're trying to find the pitch of your house.  You know pitch is simply rise over run, so you measure the rise, the run, calculate the ratio, and ... what?  Let's suppose the ratio is simply 1.00 - for every foot in run, we rise a foot.

Now you likely push a button on your calculator and you get a degree measurement.

Where did that come from?

Let's suppose there were no "calculating machines" except our own minds.  What would we do?

We could consult a table like this below:

 

Such a table - here a "tangent" table, tells us if our rise/run = 1.000, then our pitch is 45˚.  But it means more than this.  It means EVERY time our ratio is 1.000, the pitch is 45˚.  But it means more than this!  It means if my pitch is 45˚, then my ratio is 1.00.

It goes both ways, and it works in all circumstances.

All one needs is a "little black box" of data to work an infinite number of problems.

That's conceptual thinking!

Napier did the same thing.

At the time of Napier, others were looking towards the heavens, and seeing many things.  It was a new world of investigation, and Copernicus had laid the groundwork on a "new type of universe":

 

The telescope was allowing astronomers to see farther and farther, and solar observation and data collection was huge.

The mathematical involvement here was huge as well.  The work they did required a great deal of multiplication and division - of huge numbers - which took a ton of time.

What could be done about it?

Napier conceived an ingenious method of taking all problems and removing the multiplication and division - and replacing it with addition and subtraction.

These types of problems can be solved quickly.

But how do you do it?

 

(the story follows)

Off To Indiana

 

NKS Midwest Conference at Indiana University

 

October 29, 2008

 

 

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round@rationalsys.com

THE PROXIMATE EVENT

A Science Fact / Fiction Novel Introducing the High-School Aged Student to the Plausibility of the Computational Universe

 

Michael Round

The Center for autoSocratic Excellence

www.rationalsys.com

(913) 515-3911

 

abstract

The notions of dynamic systems, cellular automata, systems dynamics, fractals, variability, adaptation, etc., have become commonplace in the past few decades. Academics and professionals alike use the concepts in the creation of models and simulations to improve their work and understanding of reality.

However, this intellectual structure has made little inroads into K-12 education, and what are often included are simple and independently taught techniques. Is there a role for a “computational curriculum” for youth? This presentation introduces a “novel” novel, seeking not as a primary goal the introduction of these concepts to schools, but to high-school age students outside the school.

 

an introduction

It’s tempting, when seeking to communicate a new idea, to immediately “get it to these people”. A new math idea? Let’s get it to math teachers! A new approach to teach dialogue? Let’s get it to the English teachers. How have such methods worked in the history of education? The history of math over the past ½ century gives us a good idea. It’s not a good idea.

Why not? Recognizing the teacher in the classroom, with 20 kids of varying ability working with a curriculum outside their control, it’s no wonder they won’t incorporate new ideas. They can’t.

But does this doom the new idea?

The goal of this novel is to introduce these ideas to the high-school-age student in a different arena, by way of a scientific novel.

Will a student pick up a book like “A New Kind of Science” and read it? Likely not. It’s huge, and it has a unique starting point: 1d-ECA. This was the crucial experiment, so why not start there? Complex behavior from incredibly simply rules.

This grabs the adult, but would it grab the student?

Likely not. What would?

 

the method

This novel starts with “A Proximate Event”, an innocent visit to the home of Snowflake Bentley. Attempting to determine how likely it is “no two snowflakes are alike” leads the protagonist, Michael Johnson, to the idea of modeling and the nomenclature of cellular automata. He travels through a series of natural steps – of differentiating between organisms that grow because of the “information” within them, and as the result of processes external to them.

His focus becomes one of intensely looking at reality, for how and why it works.

Variability, adaptability, computational equivalence and irreducibility, are all naturally introduced, leading Michael to a profound definition of “life” and a belief the “computational universe” is plausible.

This 70-page novel is intended to be read with ease within an hour, with any of the 7 chapters providing the reader the opportunity to create the models and simulations themselves – on their own time.

 

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Sampling the Computational World of "Turkish-Rug" Skylights.

 

October 30, 2008

 

 

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round@rationalsys.com

I previously talked of a spreadsheet modeling the beauty of Turkish Rugs.  Literally, there are an infinite variety of rugs like the one below.

The first presentation I saw at the IU conference sampled the computational world of 1-dimensional elementary skylights, and defined "goodness" as those patterns affording about 1/2 light through as was possible.

What does this same criteria look like should the above patterns be etched in a skylight? 

 

Let's sample the universe and see!

 

The Presidential Vote Over Time

 

October 31, 2008

 

 

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round@rationalsys.com