Category Archives: contrarian

3 2 stories of naivete

IN INDIA, THE INVENTOR OF A MACHINE TO MAKE SANITARY PADS:
“Luckily I’m not educated,” he tells students. “If you act like an illiterate man, your learning will never stop… Being uneducated, you have no fear of the future.”

http://www.bbc.com/news/magazine-26260978

AT GOOGLE, THE CREATOR OF GMAIL:
“Very often, if you do something new, the actual feedback people will say is, ‘This is what we tried before and it doesn’t and won’t work,’” he says. “If you’re naive, you may not even realize that it’s been tried and didn’t work,” he says. “We tend to overlearn from the past. Just because something didn’t work in the past, doesn’t mean that it can’t work in the future–especially in technology where things are constantly changing. Maybe the technology changed, the world has changed, or you’re just simply taking a different approach. All these people [at Google] were telling me that it was a bad idea and it would fail,” he says. “But I didn’t really care, I thought they were all wrong and tried it anyway–and it worked.”

http://www.fastcolabs.com/3027233/why-gmail-creator-paul-buchheit-gave-javascript-a-second-chance?partner=rss

CASEY NEISTAT:
Ignorance Is the Mother of Invention
“The truth is I never tried to come up with a new style; I was just never taught the way you’re supposed to do it. When you’re never taught the way you’re supposed to do things, you find your own path. Story is all I care about, I’m not a good enough writer, so I needed the images to hide behind. Embracing my ignorance is what yielded my style.”

http://www.refinery29.com/2013/08/49802/casey-neistat

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Filed under contrarian, creativity

The Problem With Little White Girls (and Boys)
(On voluntourism. From a founder of a summer camp in Dominican Republicfor HIV+ children.)

http://pippabiddle.com/2014/02/18/the-problem-with-little-white-girls-and-boys/

ME: I am similarly useless. Not to mention the expensive airline tickets (and associated CO2) and (for employed people) the opportunity cost of not doing the work one normally does — the income one could instead donate.

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Filed under contrarian, erik-green, globalization, green

Climate scientists calling for revolution

Is avoiding a 2 degrees C rise “impossible” or is it “difficult but doable” — “…scientists have been dramatically soft-peddling the implications of their research”

Naomi Klein in Russell Brand’s New Statemen issue: http://www.newstatesman.com/2013/10/science-says-revolt

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Filed under climate change, contrarian, erik-green, future, green, revolution

In the news…. some related links

The following are some related links. Computers are simultaneously making amazing things possible and helping make some people very rich, but also making it more difficult to make a living for many (see the income inequality video).
It’s touching everything for good or bad. Media, education, news, jobs, food, financial markets, politics. Some win (and we all hear about those people) and most lose (and news tries to not depress or mobilize us too much about that). “The limitation of the personal view” Jerry Mander calls it.

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- The Rise of the Blockbuster (blockbusters are actually on the increase. the “long tail” is still there, but aren’t the real winners %-wise)

http://wgbhnews.org/post/rise-blockbuster

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- Misconceptions about wealth Inequality in America

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- “Q: If someone from the 1950s suddenly appeared today, what would be the most difficult thing to explain to them about life today?”
“A: I possess a device, in my pocket, that is capable of accessing the entirety of information known to man. I use it to look at pictures of cats and get in arguments with strangers.”

https://twitter.com/SciencePorn/status/391419960817614848/photo/1

(original at: http://as.reddit.com/r/AskReddit/comments/15yaap/if_someone_from_the_1950s_suddenly_appeared_today/?sort=top)

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- University megastar professors

http://www.forbes.com/sites/jamesmarshallcrotty/2012/08/07/the-coming-age-of-the-teaching-megastar/

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- Welcome, Robot Overlords. Please Don’t Fire Us?
Smart machines probably won’t kill us all—but they’ll definitely take our jobs, and sooner than you think.

http://ehaugsjaa.wordpress.com/2013/06/14/2040-our-robot-paradise/

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- BAY WATCHED: How San Francisco’s new entrepreneurial culture is changing the country.
BY NATHAN HELLER
OCTOBER 14, 2013

http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2013/10/14/131014fa_fact_heller?currentPage=all

Naval Ravikant “… the cost to build and launch a product went from five million … to one million … to five hundred thousand … and it’s now to fifty thousand.”

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- The Nacho Dorito
“I visited Steven A. Witherly, a food scientist who wrote an insider’s guide, “Why Humans Like Junk Food,” and we raided his lab to taste and experiment our way through the psychobiology of what makes Nacho Cheese Doritos so alluring.”

http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2013/10/01/dining/nacho-graphic.html?_r=0

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- TOO COMPLICATED TO FAIL

https://www.google.com/search?q=%22too+complicated+to+fail%22

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Filed under computers, contrarian, person: Jerry Mander, tech, thinking

links: happiness and work

So Good They Can’t Ignore You: Why Skills Trump Passion in the Quest for Work You Love
Cal Newport
NYTIMES: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/09/30/jobs/follow-a-career-passion-let-it-follow-you.html?_r=0
BLOG: http://calnewport.com/

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“We believe that we should work to be happy, but could that be backwards? In this fast-moving and entertaining talk, psychologist Shawn Achor argues that actually happiness inspires productivity. “

some suggestions
- exercise
- meditation
- 3 gratitudes
- 1 journal item about something positive
- random acts of kindness

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“If what you love to do cannot keep you alive and pay your rent, it’s doomed to be temporary. That doesn’t mean temporary things in life are not worthy, it just means you should keep this piece of information in mind. Except for really rare cases (and you shouldn’t think you are one), doing what makes you happy is unsustainable. There’s always someone paying the bills. So if you’re happy doing what you love, probably there’s someone paying your bills by doing something profitable that they don’t love to do.”

View story at Medium.com

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Several useful articles at Harvard Business Review blog on this topic:
https://www.google.com/search?q=site%3Ablogs.hbr.org+”Do+what+you+love”

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So, to summarize! :-) The basic points one reads regularly:

- “do what you love!” — what if I don’t have a passion or true-calling? that’s ok. it’s generally bad advice anyway. And people don’t have ONE thing. It’s what We make of our choices.
- cycle: “happiness” (flow/play/lightheartedness) leads to good work leads to happiness
- make an avocation a vocation means (obviously) you need to make substantial money
- some things just can’t realistically make money (easily, or often)
- we see examples of people “doing what they love” in the media, but this is like thinking we can make it as a pro athlete — Yes it’s possible and some people do it, but it’s not likely (depending on the field)
- doing it (whatever it is) for money might kill the joy or alter it
- doing it (whatever it is) for so many hours might kill the joy or alter it
- there are aspects of all work that we don’t like 100%
- work satisfaction: – not “passion”. good at it, responsbility/autonomy, impact (Daniel Pink DRIVE)
- grass is not greener
- people often study kinda useless things in college
- hard work/talent/skills (leading to accomplishments and happiness) is the way to go

http://www.forbes.com/sites/louisefron/2013/09/13/why-you-cant-find-a-job-you-love/

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Filed under contrarian, happiness, person: Cal Newport, work

Not News: The Most (And Least) Lucrative College Majors, In 1 Graph

Old news, right? And perhaps mostly useless because it’s not going to convince someone to study or work in engineering (for example) if they aren’t interested.

http://www.npr.org/blogs/money/2013/09/10/219372252/the-most-and-least-lucrative-college-majors-in-1-graph

1. Data should be adjusted for things like stress and hours worked per week/year as some majors/careers are going to be much better in this respect.

2. Unemployment is also higher in many of the lowing paying majors/careers. Also, how about avg years worked and ageism by career sector? 50 years old software engineers vs 50 year old teachers.

3. Info should also be adjusted for pensions. Working for 20-30 years and retiring (or working at a new job) with a pension is rather nice.

SEE ALSO:

1 in 2 new college graduates are jobless or underemployed (2013)

http://news.yahoo.com/1-2-graduates-jobless-underemployed-140300522.html

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Filed under ageism, contrarian, education, work

Simple Solar PV math

First: assumptions:

1. Price of grid electricity. In MA, it can be kinda expensive. And let’s assume you are doing GREEN UP or NEW ENGLAND WIND FUND to make you 100% renewables. Let’s guesstimate $0.20. That might be low, but whatever. It will also increase at rate of inflation. say 3%.

2. Price of solar panels installed. I think it might be even cheaper than this now, but let’s say it’s $4000/KW peak (what the panels are rated)

3. Output of said panels in an average year. I believe in New England, assuming maybe 90% sun (maybe w/ microinverters) and roughly S facing, you can assume 1200 KWh/KW peak. So if you install 1KW of panels, you will get 1200 KWh/year.

4. Borrowing money at 5% for 30 years.

5. Panels will pretty much work with no maintenance (maybe a new inverter) for 30 years. They have a warranty nearly that long. And likely for many more. But we can ignore that.

Second: Calculation:

$4000 at 5% fixed 30 years is $258/year
… EXCEL: = 12 * PMT(5/1200,30*12,4000)

And so that is

$258 / 1200 KW = $0.215/KWh for that electricity in year one

Thirdly: what does that mean exactly?

We are basically at “GRID PARITY” pricing with PVs here in New England from day zero and year one, and…
1. Even assuming NO TAX BREAKS, which there actually are.
2. And things will just keep getting better and better as inflation happens. Even assuming you get costs of living increases at your job which help you keep pace with the equally increasing fossil fuel prices, with the solar, you are locked in to 2013 prices for 30 (or more) years!

Forthly: Comments and Conclusion

One complication is that people move every 7 years I think I’ve heard. So the problem there is that the buyer of your solarized home will not understand all of this wonderful stuff, and solar PVs will be even cheaper 7 years from now, so when you sell, you won’t be able to sell the house for much more with the panels. Maybe a tiny bit. Maybe. And you will still have your extra 5% loan for the PVs to pay off.

Which is why I still think it might be most conservative to do GREEN UP (or similar) or NEW ENGLAND WIND FUND and get your 100% renewables that way.

And buy a Prius when it is time to buy a new car. And eat less meat. These 2 have been shown (calculations again!) to contribute as much to reducing CO2 as solar panels do. And for many situations they also cost less! And they aren’t attached to the house, so they can come with you when you move.

On the other hand, there are many reasons to do things in life besides money. Most of us live in houses, buy cars, and build kitchens… all far fancier than we NEED. So then… so WHAT if you add some fancy solar panels to the house. If you can afford it, then go for it. They are cool. And the kids will learn a lot from it.

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Filed under contrarian, erik-green, green, solar

“(Annual returns of +10%, -5%, +22% and -3% will always result in a four year return of +23.7% no matter what order they came in.) … starting out risky and ending safe has exactly the same expected result as starting safe and ending risky.

… then why would it make sense as generic advice to those saving for retirement? Well, of course, it doesn’t.”

http://badmoneyadvice.com/2009/01/great-life-cycle-of-risk-aversion.html

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Filed under contrarian, money

The Hole-in-the-Wall Project: A Critique

There has been much interest in Sugata Mitra’s TED talks about The Hole-in-the-Wall Project where kids in remote areas learn a bunch of stuff when computers are dropped on them with no instruction but some video or CAI (“Computer Aided Instruction”) multimedia lessons and tools are provided.

But read below and click thru to this researchers (Payal Arora) publications page and you can read her peer-reviewed criticisms from 2012. LINK

My comments:
The results of these experiments are not terribly surprising. In addition to the objections raised by Payal Arora (that the experiment actually failed completely in many locations; that there is only anecdotal evidence of it working, not real empirical statistics; that it ultimately is still tutoring, mentoring, etc.) I would add the following:

1 – Using/learning computers is easy. Toddlers use tablets with ease. My kids figure out complex video games without even reading the instructions. A well-known Computer Science professor (Joseph Weizenbaum) questions the use of an undergraduate degree in CS in a well regarded book. LINK This idea of “Digital Natives” I don’t buy. I’ve seen too many people of all ages adapt easily. A great blog post (among many) from James Hague LINK in which he argues eloquently (as elsewhere) that for most creative uses of computers, the issues are not technical. We effectively have “infinite computing power” (and bandwidth).

2 – Novelty Effect in action. It’s not the whole answer, but probably some.

3 – Also in play is what I would also call “screen seduction”. People are generally more enamored of doing things that are multimedia — moving images and sound — rather than not. This is not news.

And just general curiosity. If some strange installment appeared in my town/village, I would be curious too!

4 – In various TED talks I actually found Sugata Mitra to be vastly *underestimating* the abilities of kids — being amazed at what “10 year olds” could do on the computer with using google, wikipedia, etc, etc. Come on! (See point 1)

5 – I am sure any gains in learning (if any) are very short-term. Not a meaningful result.

6 – Reliance on volunteer tutors (“SOLEs” acronym in Hole-in-the-wall) via internet/Skype? This is not practical nor sustainable. And it seems to devalue direct experience (vs the “expert” exposure via global telecommunications) though I can’t say whether this perception has empirical backing.

7 – I can’t find the quote now, but somewhere I read an interesting quote from a partner at an architecture firm who was looking for excellent new hires and had no interest in the computer experience they had because he recognized (correctly I would imagine) that teaching someone to use complex CAD and 3D modeling software was not difficult in comparison to the artistic and creative and technical knowledge and experience needed in an architect. Draftsperson, maybe.

The same goes with companies looking for long-term hires in software. Yes, in the short term it is very useful to have someone who is up-to-speed on your programming language of choice, but longer-term there are more important issues.

I guess much of this boils down to the “tyranny of technique” (Jaques Ellul) as well as the concern that the computer is now “deskilling” us mentally now in the Information Age, just as the physical was deskilled in the Industrial Revolution. More on this in the book “Abstracting Craft” LINK.

8 – Has Sugata Mitra heard of Sudbury Valley School? It invariably comes up in the comments section in related videos. He probably wouldn’t like it because there aren’t teachers and curriculum — structures he clearly supports.

9 – The takeaway/the things this project makes me think about are:
- Globalization vs local (internet vs place) and effect on work, school, family, friends, happiness, the environment
- “Limitations of the personal view” (Jerry Mander) — the idea that even if a technology might be personally beneficially, it might be having larger negative impacts on your life via it’s influence in the business, political, military, media worlds.

As usual, education is a window into issues affecting all aspects of society.

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Filed under community, computers, contrarian, globalization, local, screen-time, Sudbury Schools and Sudbury Valley School

Sorry legos, magnatiles are still the best toy ever

BELOW IS MY FOLLOW-UP REVIEW… we’ve had magna-tiles, duplo trains, and magformers for at least 3 or 4 years now. So I know what I am talking about! (At least with my kids! ;-)
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Sorry Lego, Magna-tiles are better. They just are… better than legos! (Sacrilege! I know!)

At least if:

- You have multiple kids including a toddler who you don’t want eating or chewing legos or pulling off ALL the arms off minifigs. (And I do mean all.)

- You want to build a structure of some sort QUICKLY that will be playable with other toys (like dolls, stuffed animals, little cars, planes, etc)

- And Dad has fun too! IMPORTANT!

One can also do pretty well if you buy a TON of Duplo (Sorry again Lego, Duplo is totally interesting to kids MUCH older than 5, the age you put on the packages).

DUPLO CONS vs MAGNATILES:
- Not quite as easy to get big/tall creations going. (It still takes a long time with duplos)
- And not as easy for the little ones. The magnets work magic (and don’t worry… it’s safe… they are embedded in the big plastic pieces so no risk)

That said… You will be amazed at the stuff your 7 year old will build if given a mountain of duplo. And his little siblings won’t choke on the pieces.

Amazon has some big sets, but bricklink.com is an invaluable resource for gettings lots of long/bigger pieces that are in short supply in some of the standard sets one can buy thru normal stores.

So, for instance, our 8 year old and 4 year old can play together with our huge electric lego duplo train collection for quite a long time. I bought a bunch of extra switches, and a bridge, and along with all the generic big/long duplo pieces, they can build some pretty cool tunnels and layouts.

Magformers are very good too. But I see that more as fun for older kids (and parents) interested in building buckyballs and Archimedian solids and other 3-d shapes. The issue being that they are a little “mushier” in terms of how their magnets hold and they are hollow (both useful for building shapes, but not for building playable structures).

What set? We have 2 of the “Magna-Tiles Clear Colors 100 Piece Set”. That’s really the way to go. Then with 2+ kids there will be limited frustration.

OK, photos to come!

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Filed under contrarian, lego, magnatiles / magformers, reviews