Thursday, December 11, 2014

Is God Proud? An Egotist?

God in general and Christianity in particular have been attacked by their despisers in many ways: persecution, denial, attempted refutation, ignoring them, diluting their message, reinterpreting the Bible, and so on. Among these attacks is the charge that God, by demanding worship and honor and praise, reveals himself as an egotistical being, thinking of himself above all else. This is incorrect.

I will not make the case that God deserves the praise and honor he demands because he has created a beautiful world (take a look at butterflies, flowers, tropical plants--and remember that the creation is under a curse because of the fall of mankind, so imagine what it was like before), or because he has given us existence and the free will that we so sadly misuse, or that he has given us a solution to the evils we create by misusing that free will (that's Jesus, in case you aren't clear).

In my view, the reason God demands that we worship, praise, and serve him is to get us out of ourselves. God does not need praise or anything else. As the creator of the universe, he's kind of set, having everything he could ever need. But he loves us and wants what's good for us. And since we, as a result of the fall, in which that Eden couple believed a shady stranger they had met for five minutes instead of their creator whom they had known for awhile--since, we, as I say, have brought about calamity on the world by abusing our free will around those who promise paradise, God wants us to remove our focus on ourselves (wanna talk about me, I, mine, my) and shift it to something else. And since he picked himself, the fit is natural. Creator of wonders, giver of life, and savior from sin--yes, worship him and realize that life is not all about you.

Yes, it turns out that many people have it backwards. They focus on themselves and  act selfishly, and when they fail to find happiness, they think, "I need to think about myself more," God wants us to realize that happiness comes from giving to others, thinking about their needs instead of your endless wants, and caring for those who live blindly and mistakenly in this hurting world.

The things that God demands--belief, trust, worship, service--are the things that will make us happy and stop the individual pursuit of our own earthly Utopia, a pursuit which has always resulted and always will result in failure, misery, and suffering. More than that, fulfilling God's demands heals our souls and brings us joy through the proper focus of life.

Ask yourself, of all the people you know, how many of the proud ones are genuinely happy? And now how many of the truly humble ones are genuinely happy? Like it or not, the road to happiness is paved with humility.

Humble yourselves in the presence of the Lord, and He will exalt you. --James 4:10 (NASB)
You younger men, likewise, be subject to your elders; and all of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, for GOD IS OPPOSED TO THE PROUD, BUT GIVES GRACE TO THE HUMBLE. Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you at the proper time, --1 Peter 5:5-6 (NASB)

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

This Might Make You Toss Your Cookies

Of course, you already know there is no privacy left, either online or in three-dimensional life. But all this watching, tracking, data mining, and so on results in diminishment. Eli Pariser has already noted, in The Filter Bubble, that our experience on the Web is being reduced by the Cookie Cops, who read the cookies set on your computer and tattle tale what they find to the advertisers.

I was prompted to write this entry because of recent evidence of Cookie Cop activity. A week or so go, I was doing some research for my Sunday School class about the decline of Western Civilization--what caused it and how we can reverse it, and so on. In the process, our speaker mentioned that the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi brought Transcendental Meditation to the United States, where it had a profound impact. Naturally, I googled "transcendental meditation" to get  little more background information.

Now, every site I visit--Target, Home Depot, etc.--presents me with ads for Transcendental Meditation. Some are text ads and some are display. I should be used to it by now, but it still seems unsettling to find ads for something I searched on a month ago showing up on the most  unlikely sites, just because I was cookied with those ads. The ads are customized to  your searches, so everyone sees different ads on  the same Web site.

If civilization consists of shared experiences, cultural values and meaning, then we are in trouble as a civilization, because we share less and less in common as we are all treated to a customized life experience.

Monday, November 24, 2014

New Testament Greek and Literal Meanings

Looking at the New Testament in the Greek language original offers some fascinating translations or interpretations. A favorite reference book I use is Word Study Greek-English New Testament, edited by Paul McReynolds. Since I don't know classical, New Testament, or modern Greek, I'm either unbiased or dangerous, so be forewarned and see if my interpretations are logical.

Hebrews  11:1 is usually translated, "Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen." (NASB). Let's look at the Greek. The word translated faith is pistis, which can also be translated as trust. That in itself could make a sermon. Faith is trust. Have faith in God means have  trust in God. But let's go on. The word translated assurance in the NASB is alternately translated as substance in other versions. However, the Greek behind it is hypostasis which means, literally, standing below (hypo = below, stasis = standings). Thus, another word that fits hypostasis is foundation. That would make Hebrews 11:1a read, "Trust is the foundation of our hope."

Since Hebrews 11 is about faith, let's continue with the translation of 11:1a as, "Faith is the foundation of our hope." Then the remainder of 11:1. The Greek translated conviction or evidence is elegchos, meaning rebuke, reprove, expose. What literally says, "rebuking invisible things" means to give an answer for, or refute. It's like a response in a debate, a rebuttal. So, a clear translation of Hebrews 11:1b requires some rewording, but the usual word translated from elegchos should not be conviction or evidence, in my view. I would translate it this way:

Faith is the foundation of our hope, our confidence in the truth of things we can't yet see.

Faith provides the anchor of confident trust in God's truth when you can't see, know, or understand yet.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Retail Business Ideas from Trester

As I mentioned earlier, my brother Trester suffered from schizophrenia all his adult life. A favorite pastime was to write on "headline cards" what was happening around him. In the process,  Trester would occasionally create some ideas (Here are a few more.

1. The popularity of dollar stores tells us that consumers are interested in low prices. So, at the dollar store you enjoy most, feature an aisle where everything is 25 cents, another aisle where everything is 50 cents, and of course, much of the store is $1 per item.

2. Start another chain called Dollar Plus, where some items are $2 or higher (up to $10).

3. Pain killer hand wash. Wash your hands and the pain will go away. The pain killer could be marketed as either a fashion accessory (hand cream) or as something that could save your life (squirt a short burst of  water or lemonade at your "enemy." Similar to Paint Ball but likely to be fore fun.

4. Start a magazine called "The Weekly Recap," that runs unedited news columns from prestigious newspapers and magazine, together with commentaries about new books and other products.

5. TV sitcom series, The Party, where teens or twenty somethings interact at a party, with focus on just two or three people from the party for each episode. The fact that all the characters are attending the same party forms a connecting bridge between episodes, as the opportunity to put characters from one clique into another for an episode further allows interconnections.                                                

Friday, November 21, 2014

The Illusion of Choice

So, you walk down the soft drink aisle at the supermarket and think that among the dozens of flavors and brands you have a robust and meaningful choice. Okay, find a diet cola without aspartame as the chemical sweetener. Oh, you can do it, but you'll be fortunate to locate more than one or two.

Similarly, try to find a regular soda not sweetened with high fructose corn syrup. In other words, sweetened with sugar.

I was at Ralph's just now and I got the hankering for root beer. I looked at all four brands (A&W, Barq's, Big K, and IBC. All four regular ones sweetened with high fructose corn syrup and all four diet sweetened with aspartame. If I recall correctly, Mug is the same story.

Wouldn't  you think that, just for competitive edge, one brand would have a sugar-sweetened root beer and a Splenda or stevia sweetened diet version? And while I'm at it, try to find a "less sweet" soda or a "less sweet" iced tea. In iced tea you get the full ten teaspoons per can or nothing (unsweetened). And, in fact, try to find unsweetened iced tea in more than a couple of brands. That major maker, Lipton, doesn't seem to make it. (Yeah, yeah, I know, consumer preference and all that. But how can consumers prefer something if they never have the choice?)

So, let's hear it for a modestly sugar sweetened root beer or cola or ginger ale.

And while I'm whining, what about more non-carbonated soft drinks? You realize that the phosphoric acid in soft drinks not only puts the bite on your tongue, but it dissolves your teeth, too. Ever see the teeth of a habitual soda swigger? Not a pretty sight.

The bottom line is that foot and drink manufacturers seem to be in a rut, using the same formulas and techniques to make what only appears to be a diversity of products. It reminds me of the old Taco Bell menu: Taco--ground taco meat in a taco shell. Bell Burger--ground taco meat on a hamburger bun. Something or other cup--ground taco meat in a cup.

Here's what will happen.

"Hey, Harry, we need to innovate to stay competitive."

"But Stan, we make ten different soft drinks: Yam Cola, Diet Yam Cola, Cherry Yam Cola, Cherry Diet Yam Cola, 10-Calorie Yam Cola, Organic Yam Cola, Zero Zero Yam Cola, Organic Diet Yam Cola, Organic Cherry Yam Cola--"

"But need something totally new."

"Double sweet Strawberry Yam Cola?"

"No, something like, "Lightly Sweet All Natural Lemonade--Made with Pure Sugar."

"Are you crazy?"

"Let's try it."

"Okay, but it will have to be sold at a premium price to enhance its unique, upscale appeal. I'm thinking four 10-ounce bottles for six dollars. That will give it real cachet."

[Six months later}

"Well, Stan, I hate to say I told you so, but the lemonade didn't sell. Your idea was no good. Don't ever ask us to go against the flow again."

Trester's Ideas: Restaurant Themes

It is said that genius and insanity live on the same street, next door to each other, in  fact. I don't know if that's true, but my brother, Trester suffered from schizophrenia for many years and in the process created many ideas that might be of use to the world. He wrote what he called "Headline Cards," notes on 3-by-5-inch cards. Most of these were imagined news headlines, such as "Whole Area Bombed Here Again." But occasionally, he wrote down some ideas for products, stores, foods, and so forth.

Here, then are a few ideas I've gleaned from his note cards. They might not be unique, but they might also be of use to stimulate further creative ideas. I've taken the core note and expanded it to clarify what I thought was his own idea and then added my own thoughts to it.

As a gift from my now-deceased brother, these ideas are in the public domain. To expand these ideas, I'm available as a consultant.

1. Ancient Days Restaurant. Create a theme restaurant with multiple rooms, each of which serves authentic food from historical eras and locations. For example, the 1,000 B.C. room would feature the breads, soups, and stews and barbecue eaten in, say the middle east at that time. The 1,000 AD room would feature robustly spiced mutton stews and so forth. More fun might include a Renaissance, and an Eighteenth Century room, and maybe a 300 B.C. China room. Period decor (clothing, farm tools, weapons, cooking utensils) would enhance the experience. Tabletop TVs could show short films discussing the historical period and tying menu selections to the history (thus encouraging people to try the dishes).

2. Soap for the world. Develop an anti-bacterial soap that is effective in cleaning, mild to the skin, and biodegrades easily and quickly. Market it as (1) good for you and (2) good for the world. For every bar (or 2 or 3 or 4) purchased, another bar will be donated to third and fourth world countries where a lack of hygiene is a cause of so many ailments.

3. Medicated Floor Cleaner. Develop a floor cleaner that contains, say, menthol and eucalyptus oils, so that a hospital or sick child's room can be cleaned with it, leaving the nose-clearing aroma in the room. Another angle on this is to combine an antiseptic or antibiotic chemical with a floor cleaner, so that two kinds of cleaning can be accomplished at once. A third possibility is  to combine an aromatic substance with the floor cleaner so that when floors are cleaned in third-world countries, a mosquito repellent will be laid down as well. (You might need to sponsor a "Concrete Floor Project" in tandem with this, for areas where floors are still dirt.)

Sunday, November 02, 2014

What Is It About the Scarcity Principle that We Find Irresistible?

I'm sure you're aware of the scarcity principle--how marketers make you think that unless you buy the item right now, you might not get it. Ever.

Examples are everywhere:
  • Act now while supplies last!
  • Limited time offer!
  • Limited to stock on hand.
  • Hurry! Sale ends soon!
  • One day only!
  • Quantities limited!
Then there is the ploy of the last chance ever. Some bookstores have a bin full of books labeled "Last Chance." Unless you buy now, you will never see these books again. Or, more dramatic is the "Going Out of Business" sale. Wow, better get in on the bargains before they are all gone. Related appeals to end-of-the-world scarcity:
  • Closeout sale!
  • Liquidation sale!
  • Everything must go!
Related is the limit-per-customer ploy. If we see an ad for something with the restriction of "one per customer," we think the price must be so low that other dealers or resellers would be pounding at the door to get as many as they could, were it not for the limit put on it. (But then you see an ad for an angle grinder that includes the note, "Limit 8." That doesn't have quite the same power of threat that "Limit 1" has.)

So my question is, why are we such suckers to the scarcity principle? "Closeout? I'd better buy a few right now before they're gone forever." And no doubt most of us have had the experience where we bought a product on  super sale, then returned to get several more, only to find them sold out. That seems to preprogram us for succumbing to the scarcity principle even more strongly.

Experience teaches us that "Supplies Limited" really means "the supplies are limited to the number ca can sell. Ever." And experience also teaches us that, when we don't get the sale item we wanted, something else becomes available that might even be better and cheaper.

The scarcity principle rushes some people into marriage. "If I don't marry him/her now, he/she will marry someone else and be gone forever." Read the slogans at the beginning of this blog entry and you'll see nearly everyone could apply to the marriage situation.

1. Just because someone says it's scarce doesn't mean it is really scarce.
2. If  you are tempted by the scarcity marketing ploys, just think "alternatives," "substitutions," and "equivalents."

Saturday, November 01, 2014

We Cannot Assume that the Customer Is Not Making Assumptions

One of the sources of "sad humor" is that defensive obviousness that product manufacturers practice in an effort to prevent customers from getting angry because something they assumed about the product was incorrect. Or, it may be that in our litigious culture, manufacturers want to avoid being sued over some issue that any reasonable person would find laughable (hence the source of humor) but that someone out there somewhere could conceivably claim to have assumed about the product.

Example: An advertisement for a toolbox for $14.95 shows it in a picture filled with tools. The caption says, "Tools sold separately."

Example: A set of jack stands includes the instruction, "Raise vehicle to desired height using
an appropriate jack (sold separately)."

Example: A new 5-gallon propane bottle is sold for $28. On the label are the words: "Empty. Does not contain propane." Anyone lifting it or just reasoning from the price should know that, but someone might assume. . . .

Example: A small clock radio includes a sack of desiccant to keep the item dry during shipping and storage before sale. On the pack is a message: "Warning: Do Not Eat." Is that because otherwise, someone would think they were buying a clock radio and a snack?

Example: A razor comes with a protective plastic cap covering the blades. On the package is the note: "Remove protective cap before use." (Hmm. No wonder I wasn't getting a very close shave.)

Another, somewhat similar category are messages accompanying dynamic demonstrations of a product (often a car or truck) warning the viewer: "Do not attempt. Warranty void if product abused in this way." Our hopes are as deflated as the tires after that jump through the air when we read such a disclaimer. Here we were hoping to buy that car just so we could run it off lift ramps at high speed and fly over drainage channels and fallen causeways.

Disclaimer: This blog entry is not guaranteed to make you wiser or smarter or to help you get a high score on the GRE. No warranty is expressed or implied. Use at your own risk. Your mileage may vary. Knowledge sold separately. Wisdom not included.

Friday, October 31, 2014

Unintended Consequences and the Failure to Think Systematically

There seems to be too much shallow thinking in modern life. When a problem occurs, we throw a law at it or cobble up a solution with some instant bandaid. The problem is that we don't think down the road, and consider what unexpected events might be caused by the solution. This knee-jerk failure to consider the consequences can bring about more harm than good.

Example: A building owner wanted to save money and water, so he installed low flow toilets in every bathroom. Within days the sewers backed up and caused a mess. The owner neglected to think through the situation. Instead of thinking systematically--thinking of the waste system as a whole--he thought only of saving water. However, the sewer pipes were designed to handle high-flow toilets, making use of the water volume to move the waste along the pipes. When the flow was cut in half, the it was insufficient to move the waste along.

Example: Feeling sorry for single mothers, the state set up payments to them, based on the number of children they had and on the fact that they were the sole support for the kids. Unexpectedly, the new welfare system both discouraged marriage and encouraged illegitimacy. If the single mother got married, her support would be reduced or eliminated, creating a disincentive to marriage. And the more children the single mother had, the larger the payment she would receive, thus incentivizing illegitimacy.

Economist Thomas Sowell reminds us to ask, "And then what?" after every proposal. Think beyond what you intend and think about what others might interpret or how they might respond in a way you wouldn't dream of.

Example: After an airplane accident where an infant was torn from its mother's arms and slammed against a bulkhead by the force of the crash, a law was proposed that would require a parent to buy a seat for the infant and strap the child in a carrier in the extra seat. But then some economists did some figuring. They argued that enough mothers and fathers would be unable or unwilling to afford an extra seat and would choose to drive instead. As a result, there would be nine infant deaths in automobile accidents for every infant life saved by the required seating in the aircraft.

And then what? What else would happen? How could the crafty take advantage of this? Where would this lead? What might be some unintended consequences?

Remember that each law, practice, behavior, and so on is an integral part of a system will remind you to ask how the proposed change will affect the entire system, both upstream and downstream.

A creative type was hired to improve the look of an old corporate web site. The designer moved a bunch of pages around, organizing them much more logically. However, the links from page to page were almost all rendered inoperative.

Think down the road. Think systematically.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

If a Tree Falls in a Forest When No One Is Present, Does It Make a Sound?

The practical philosopher's answer to this apparent conundrum is actually simple. It hinges on the definition of the word sound. If sound is defined as a perceived auditory sensation, then without a perceiver, nothing is perceived, and  hence there is no sound because sound is a perception.

But I think most of us would agree that sound refers to the waves of sonic energy emitted whenever something makes noise--a falling tree, a screeching bird, or even the whisper of the wind through the treetops. So, observer or not, the tree does make a sound.

Thought experiment: A man goes on a hike. It starts raining and he is unprepared, so he drops everything and rushes back to his  car. A couple of days later he returns to his hiking spot and finds his voice recorder, which has the sound of  falling tree on it.

Tuesday, October 07, 2014

More About Sex

In a previous post, I mentioned that we have lost quite a few formerly perfectly good words--words we cannot use in their literal meaning--because they have become euphemisms referring to sexual matters.

I'm reminded now how many words have become slang references to women's breasts. The thought was brought up again recently by a friend who washed a van for a female friend. He was on top of the van wiping down the luggage holder bolted to the roof. Enthusiastically, he shouted down to her, "You have a great rack!"

Sure, sure, "Think before you speak," but why do we have to step so cautiously through these verbal minefields lest we convey the wrong idea?

"Boobs" used to mean "simpletons," or incompetent folks. A 1920's silent film took advantage of this  change in meaning by the title, "Bathing Beauties and Big Boobs," the boobs being some slapstick characters.

Words that in the singular are still largely safe, take on anatomical slang meanings in the plural: Jug, jugs; hooter (an owl), hooters; knocker (door rapper), knockers; and so on. One web site lists 138 slang terms for breasts.

I guess some folks are so obsessed with "the girls" that they need lots of synonyms in order not to sound repetitive. And, for some, the terms are slightly humorous, so it's a cheap way to sound a bit scandalously witty. For others, it's just for the titillation.

Aesop's moral: Isn't it kind of a shame that we are so sex-obsessed that we have to keep prostituting formerly nice words into sexual meanings?

Reading Is Only the Beginning

I've recently begun my fourth journey through the Rambler essays of Samuel Johnson, and it occurred to me that there is a great difference between simply reading something--such as a novel for enjoyment or a magazine for information or a textbook for an assignment--and reading for improvement.

It further occurred to me that reading for improvement tracks the three steps of hermeneutics (Biblical interpretation).

1. What does it say? This step is in common with ordinary reading. We want to comprehend the material, to grasp the writer's point. Of course, we need to be alert for metaphors, irony, exaggeration, and so forth.

2. What does it mean? This step might be thought of as understanding in context, or as the larger significance of the work. As we read at this level, we always have the "so what?" in mind. What are the implications? This step shows we care about the ideas we are reading and are thinking about them and their role is the great conversation.

3. How does this apply to me? This last step takes the reading home to ourselves as we ask how it should affect, challenge, influence, or change the way we act, think, feel, and understand the world and our place in it.

Reading only for comprehension, so that you can do well on a test, limits the effect of the author-reader interaction to a simple, safe level. But if you want to grow wiser, better, happier, you must examine the ideas in the text at a higher step.

There is a saying, "We read because we find ourselves there, and we read because we don't find ourselves there." That is, we read in order to feel human, maybe normal, and to recognize our own feelings and thoughts, fears and hopes, ambitions and hesitations though those we read about (fiction or nonfiction). And we also read to escape from ourselves and our patterned lives, to move into the magical realms of story and interesting people, circumstances, challenges, and events.

To read well is to read through all three steps.

Wednesday, September 03, 2014

Why Our Culture Is Declining

As a culture, we've moved from admiring a poem by Shakespeare, John Donne, or George Herbert to admiring (if that's the right word for it) scantily clad young women shaking their body parts while singing quasi-melodious songs with lyrics that push the definition of superficial banality to new depths. Why, you ask, is this so? What has caused this? Several factors are at work in a perfect storm.

First, there is the human desire for constant novelty, exacerbated by the supply of constant novelty. Lots of leisure time has turned us (especially the young who seem to have lots of leisure time) into a culture of entertainment. In the entertainment economy, there is a constant flow of entertainment, that, however derivative, needs to continue to demand attention. In the attention economy, ever more surprising, shocking, amazing things must be included in the entertainment package so that people will pay attention to the next new thing instead of the competition's next new thing. Thus does the stunt ratchet get constantly cranked up. One movie blows up a car. The next movie blows up three cars. The next movie blows up a building. The next movie blows up a town. And so on.

That's how we got from a young woman singer holding a microphone twenty years ago to a naked young woman singer swinging on a wrecking ball today.  What was surprising yesterday is soporific today. What was shocking yesterday is cliche today. So, in order to maintain a shock value to get attention, ever more exaggerated, low brow events must be staged. We're already passing by vile and detestable into regions that have no words for them.

Monday, May 26, 2014

An Unwanted Feature Can Be a Drawback

A few months ago, we traded in our electric clothes dryer for a gas model, to save money. A "feature" of this particular dryer is that if you don't take the clothes out at the end of the cycle, every few minutes the dryer rotates the clothes a bit (ostensibly to prevent wrinkling) and then sounds the "laundry's done" buzzer again. Now, that might be a great feature for many people, but for us, when we do a load of laundry at bedtime, the rotation and buzzer every few minutes is annoying. True, the buzzer can be turned off, but the rotation cannot, and our dryer is only feet from the master bedroom. So we still hear the rotation noise.

Another example of this "unwanted feature is a drawback" is the LED flashlight that I acquired recently. Push the button once and you get the full light. Push it again and you get a dim light (to allow the batteries to last a longer time?). Push once again and the light goes off. This feature is a drawback for two reasons. For those who expect simple on-off operation, requiring two clicks from on to off won't happen. (A friend clicked the light from on to dim and put it back into the glove compartment.) Second, it's just a tiny irritation to need to click, click to off, especially with the button on the base of the flashlight.

So think before you chase after all the features you can get on some new gizmo. You might be chasing a hassle.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Our Choices Are Determined by Our Options

Suppose that, after a sumptuous meal at some friends' house, you are offered a choice of chocolate or vanilla ice cream for dessert.  You choose from the alternatives available to you. However, the person sitting next to you asks the host, "Are there any other alternatives, such a coffee-flavored ice cream, a pie, or  fruit dish?" The host says Yes and the other guest orders. Now, since these are three of your favorite desserts, you are disappointed with your choice.

Problem 1 with choice selection: Failure of Imagination. Insufficient recognizing of alternative options. (Rush to make a decision and get it over with.) If only you had known or asked about additional alternatives, you could have made a more satisfactory decision.

On the television show, Naked and Afraid, the two contestants  are allowed to take one item with them to help them survive in the jungle. In the past, contestants have chosen to take a pot, swimming goggles, or a flint-and-steel fire starter.

Now, everyone knows that the two most crucial things to have in a wild jungle of a forest are water and fire. Next would be a tool for digging, and a tool for chopping and a tool for sawing. So which two to pick?

The failure of imagination here occurs when the so-called survivalist candidate in the contest chooses a knife, sometimes a rather small, folding knife. And his partner, who might not choose a pot, instead selects a flint-and-steel fire starter. But to take the second case first, why a flint and steel? Why not just take a butane fireplace match? You can get hundreds of quick, long-lasting lights with it. And remember that the survival challenge is for 21 days, not the rest of your life.

Then to the knife. There is an abundant choice of survival knives available, many of them large enough to work as digging tools. Some have serrations on the top of the blade, making them useful as saws. And some have survival kits in the handle, including compass, matches, fish hook, fishing line, and so on. A few come with blade sharpeners. So one tool can cut, chop, dig, saw, produce fire, show compass directions, fish and do whatever else your imagination can discover.

Once again, we make our choices from the options we believe are available to us. To make better choices, identify more options. (It is said that people who kill themselves believe they have run out of other options.)

Monday, May 12, 2014

Go to the Ant, You Sluggard

Scripture tells us, "Go to the ant, O sluggard, observe her ways and be wise, which, having no chief, officer or ruler, prepares her food in the summer and gathers her provision in the harvest.  --Proverbs 6:6-8 So the ant's industriousness is recommended to us as a model.

But are there other characteristics of the ant that we might emulate? Here are some thoughts.

1. Ants are opportunists. They roam around looking for a tidbit of something sweet or greasy, and when they find it, they descend on it full tribe, like a locust attack. They don't bypass opportunity. They seize it.

2. Ants are proactive. They manage to seize opportunity because they send scouts out to roam all over the ant domain, looking for any chance encounter with food. They know that you cannot seize an opportunity you don't know about.

3. Ants are team players. If you watch ants, some are communicating with other ants, some are keeping the ant highway systems open with chemical trails, some are managing security (as when the soldier ants come out). As team players, ants are always ready to take one for the team.

4. Ants share everything: Food, shelter, trails, even ant poison, unknowingly. They have huge air conditioned spaces for the young and take care of huge quantities of eggs by assignment.

5. Ants are committed to maintaining the roads scholarship and some of the money must come from this fund. So, when you see these scouts or an entire colony on the move. They know, for example, that storm drains are useful, even though it's not raining right now.

6. Ants are resilient. They bounce back from tragedy with an eagerness to go on again. Think of those tens of thousands of ants you kill with your bug spray can, only to find next day thousands more, each with the same purposefulness and opportunism.

7. Ants persevere. Ever tried to wipe the ants out, to prevent them from coming back? But as long as  you leave the sugar or fat item out, they will soon be on it in huge numbers again and again and again. Ants don't know the meaning of the word surrender.

8. Ants recycle. Ever spray a stream of ant killer, and wipe out a few thousand ants? Then  you came back later only to discover that all the ant bodies were gone. Yes, the ants cleaned them up, took them away so they could recycle their juices. Look for a pile of shriveled up ant bodies near the backdoor.

These, I think, are the cultural strengths and weaknesses of modern societies populated by humans. Maybe we should go to the antlll

Saturday, May 10, 2014

It's About Sex

One of the unfortunate things about our cultural obsession with sex is that we've invented too many euphemisms, innuendos, and synonyms for matters sexual. As a result, you can be chatting along and suddenly find yourself betrayed into an unintended sexual reference. Here are just a few off-the-cuff examples that come to mind.

"Yeah, our camping experience was a great time for bonding. We ate together, worked together, fished together, told stories together, slept together--" Ooops, Didn't mean that. And what a dumb euphemism, since sleeping is the furthest thing from two people's minds when they are, um, well, "having relations."

That brings up a problem with the English language. We have only one non-slang, transitive, active verb for having sex, and that's the popular four-letter one that is considered crude and formerly taboo in company. There was a socially acceptable transitive verb arising from middle English, swive, but it has long been obsolete.

And we lose perfectly good words to sexual meanings. "We have an intimate relationship," used to mean you were very close. Now, people assume you mean you're skin diving. And take the word "intercourse," which means "communication." You can read nineteenth-century novels and find statements such as, "I learned little about the forest from my daily intercourse with Jane," and you might think you're not reading a G-rated novel after all. But the damage to the word is the result of laziness. The expression, "sexual intercourse" (sexual communication = having sex) was truncated to just "intercourse" and a very useful word was lost to us forever, except as a sort of euphemism.

Another interesting betrayal of language occurred in radio advertising. A Los Angeles car dealer's ads touted the low prices of the cars, and finished each ad with the promise of a great deal, concluding with "And remember, Nick can't say no." Then, Nick decided to let his daughter do some of the spots, so the ads concluded with, "And remember, Elizabeth can't say no." It wasn't but a month or two before the dealer realized that when it's said that a woman "can't say no," it means that she is, um, promiscuous.

Now there is another word, just like "intercourse," that we have lost to sex. The actual meaning of "promiscuous" is "not discriminating" or "not choosy," "indiscriminate." But now it just means slutty.

Another problem is male-to-female talk, where an expression that would be clearly understood in a male-to-male interaction would be taken as an obscene comment when coming from a male to a female. This almost happened to me once when I was getting parts to install a new water heater. I was at Home Depot looking for the short pieces of pipe that connect an iron water heater tank to the copper plumbing. There was a young woman working in plumbing. I just caught myself before I asked her, "Do you have dielectric nipples?"

I recall a British actress in the US for a talk show appearance, who reported that the concierge acted oddly when she asked him, "Can you knock me up at seven tomorrow?" The expression in England is a request for a wake-up call (or knock on the door).

I thought about listing a few of the slang uses of formerly perfectly good words that we have lost to sexual references, but for the sake of good taste, I will refrain. Too bad we can't just invent new words and keep the good old ones for their innocent uses.

Wednesday, May 07, 2014

Global Warming Questions

A major problem with the news media is that complex issues get compressed into little sound bites and short presentations, often framed in a script that the journalistic community has adopted. (Compare the use of the term "black boxes" for the orange data and voice recorders on commercial aircraft, or the term "Richter scale" in the discussion of earthquakes--a scale not used since the 70s or so.)

When there is a multiple shooting somewhere, the media dusts off its gun control script. Not too long ago there was a mass stabbing, but the media, having no "knife-control script," couldn't advocate tighter laws for knife ownership.

To the point:
Discussion of global warming or its much more vague but newly popular alternate concept, climate change seems too often to conflate, bypass, and ignore a number of questions relevant to the discussion. Here, then, are just a few:

1. Is global warming occurring? That is, Is the climate getting hotter?
2. If the answer to 1 is Yes, then what is the base measurement? In other words, if the earth is getting warmer, since when? Since 2000? (It seems that global temps haven't changed since then.) Since 1950? Since 1850? Since 1500? Since 1000?
3. If the earth has warmed since the named baseline, is that an absolute rise or a rise on a larger cyclical pattern or rising and falling global temperatures? Do the Medieval Warm Period or the Little Ice Age suggest a cyclical pattern?
4. How can we know whether the earth is warming or not? This is a question about measurement reliability.

  • How reliable are old data, such as the temperatures recorded a hundred, two hundred or more years ago?
  • How reliable are new data? Was a parking lot installed around a measuring station that used to be surrounded by grass or trees?
  • How representative are the data? Inductive leaps can be problematic.
5. If global warming is occurring indeed, is that bad? During the age of the dinosaurs, the planet must have been pretty lush to leave behind enough plant matter to give us all the oil we now have. And anyone who has raised vegetables or fruit in a hot house knows what huge and delicious produce results.
6. How can we know if global warming will, on balance, be a negative? Sea levels could rise, but starvation might be almost eliminated because of a crop-friendly atmosphere.
7. If global warming is occurring and it is bad, what is causing it? It's popular to throw a dart at human activity such as burning fossil fuels, but is that really the cause? Sunspot activity has also been proposed. Is there a suite of causes and not just one?
8. If global warming is occurring and it's bad and humans are causing it, what can be done to ameliorate it? It's interesting here that some solutions are more popular among the chattering classes than others. Solar power? Got it!, Nuclear power? Not so much. Wind power? Yay. (But those wind generators slice and dice endangered bird species. Guess you have to choose your eco-priorities.)
9. If you have developed a list of what can be done, then what should be done? Who's going to pay for it? Why them? 
10. What if nations don't cooperate? Third world nations just now ramping up their energy needs and production are unlikely to shut down their power plants.

Whatever your position on global warming or climate change, I think it will be helpful to consider some of these questions as entry points for fresh thinking and analysis.

I Disagree, But Don't Hate On Me

Why do some people get so upset when you disagree with them?

Blaise Pascal references a question by Epictetus: "Why are we not angry if someone says that we have a headache and are angry if someone says that we are arguing badly or making a bad choice?" Pascal's answer is that we are certain that we don't have a headache, but we're not sure that we aren't arguing badly or making a bad choice. Indeed, it seems that the more some people fear that they might be wrong, the angrier they are.

It's been noted that disagreement and argument, rather than bringing about compromise or a search for common ground, actually polarizes the contestants further, making them argue in even more extreme terms.

To return to our initial question: Why do some people get angry when they face opposition or challenge to their assertions? Here are some possible reasons.

1. They are upset by what they view as error.  Having perhaps arrived at their stated conclusion only after long and hard thought, or having adopted a position that seems to be the only one that corresponds to their other, deepest beliefs, to hear someone contradict them is a source of frustration, as if they are afraid that the long set of reasons and arguments must be revisited, to their distress.

People who invoke ideas such as "settled science" or "historical fact" are sometimes hoping to quash a rehash of what they consider long concluded arguments.

2. The introduction of a contrary fact or claim upsets some people because they believe it will result in confusion that would require a long discussion to clarify. Speakers (professors, presenters, etc.) who are attempting to present the basic ideas or arguments about a topic sometimes react with heat when one of their hearers raises a conflicting idea or an idea that shows the speaker's thesis to be oversimplified.

3. The disagreement is a misunderstanding, which, to the angry presenter's mind, shows a lack of understanding, knowledge, or expertise on the part of the objector. For example:
Presenter: "The circumstantial evidence convincingly points to the guilt of Frimpson."
Objector: "But Frimpson passed a lie detector test.  He said he didn't do it and he passed the test. He therefore wasn't lying. He was telling the truth."

Here, the presenter gets upset because he perhaps was lecturing to an audience he assumed knew that passing a lie detector test is not an absolute guarantee of truthfulness. He is frustrated with the objector because a lengthy explanation would derail the presentation.

4. For people who are advancing a point close to their strongly held ideological framework, anyone who disagrees with their position is not just wrong, but is evil. This is especially true of leftists, who see many political, social, and economic ideas in moral terms of good (their position) versus evil (their opponents' position).

All of these reasons should be considered in light of Pascal's Headache. Is the degree of anger commensurate with their degree of self doubt?

Tuesday, May 06, 2014

You Can't Go Home Again

I had not eaten a Hostess Twinkie in at least 20 years. But recently, on an impulse, I bought a box, just to see what they tasted like, and to see how familiar they would be. In spite of intervening years and the change in ownership of the Hostess Bakeries, were they the same, familiar treat of my  youth?

No. The Twinkies in the box of 10 seemed smaller and more carelessly made than the Twinkies of my childhood. They didn't taste the same, and even the texture seemed less fluffy. The cake was more dense than I remembered.

Now, it has often been remarked that things we revisit after many years of absence seem smaller than we remember simply because we were smaller as children and now that we are grown, the house or uncle Fred seem to have shrunk by comparison.

Similarly, as kids, our taste buds were working much better than they do today, as we enter or near our retirement years.

The counterargument, though, is that while brand names are created to provide a familiar, dependable, known-quantity product, behind the scenes is a lot more variability that many consumers understand. For example, I once looked up the formula for a very popular, national brand of laundry detergent. (This was in a poison-control book to aid doctors when a kid had eaten a mouthful or two.) The formula was like this:

"Depending on region, ingredient cost, and availability, X laundry detergent contains:

  • [Name of one ingredient] 15% - 30%
  • [Name of another ingredient] 20%-45%
  • [Name of another ingredient] 8%-12%
  • [Name of another ingredient] 13%-28%"
In other words, the next time you buy a box of the same detergent, you might not be buying a box of the same detergent.

Another issue is the brand name itself. Remember Polaroid? Established brand, good reputation, trusted, etc. But the Polaroid camera and film company went bankrupt. But the Polaroid name was licensed to various manufacturers, resulting in Polaroid-branded batteries, light bulbs, DVD players, and so on. 

Similarly, Ipana toothpaste was a popular brand in the 1960s, but lost market share and was stopped in the 1970s. Then a few years ago, the brand name was licensed by another company and Ipana came back on the market. But was it the same toothpaste or a modern formulation?

Also similarly, Emerson radio ceased manufacture of DVD players, TVs, and so on, but licensed its brand name to Funai.

Finally, many manufacturers have their products designed and actually made by third parties or operate plants in foreign countries. Check the labels: That quintessential Japanese manufacturer, Sony, now markets products made in China.

So are Twinkies really different, or am I just different? Food for thought; something to chew on.


Saturday, May 03, 2014

Tell Me What to Do Before What Not to Do

I just became the happy owner of a Coleman CT-70F LED flashlight. Flashlights have changed in recent years with the advent of LED technology. Instead of the two-D-cell flashlights that throw a whole 9 lumens into the dark, it is now possible to shine 50, 100, and even 1000 lumens into the night. The Coleman CT-70F (available at Walmart) is rated at 700 lumens.. However, apparently there can be problems with the LED if the voltage is sent through backwards.

The package says in a prominent, upper right corner, "Warning: Do Not Install Batteries Backwards." In the "Important Safety Instructions" inside the package, we read, "Warning: . . . 1. Do not install the batteries backwards. Follow the + and - symbols as shown in the instructions. . . . Save these instructions." Now, unless there is another instruction sheet missing from my package, there is no other set of instructions about battery installation.

So, I figure that maybe there are markings on the flashlight itself. I look all over inside the cap and on the inside back, but can't see any. Then, as a last effort, I shine another LED flashlight (a Rayovac that puts out 120 lumens) into the battery chambers of the Coleman, and Lo and Behold, there are some tiny + and - diagrams inside each tube.

This is a long winded way of saying that it would be far better to put on the package and on the instruction sheet, "Be sure to install all the batteries with the + end toward the front of the flashlight."

The point then is, instead or scaring people by warning them about the (unspecified) dire consequences of doing something incorrectly, just tell them that it's important to do the task correctly--and tell them what that means.

Coleman CT-70F LED Flashlight Review.

In the event you are interested in owning a high-output LED flashlight, I can recommend the Coleman CT-70F. Camping or even outside in the dark, or in your basement, you'll instantly exclaim, "Now THAT is what I call a flashlight!" the moment you turn it on.

With the six AA alkaline batteries installed, the CT-70F has a reasonable heft, weighing in at 15.8 ounces (just under a pound). The aluminum body gives you a feeling of quality and solidity. Length is about 9.25 inches. (As a comparison, my plastic, 2 D-cell no name flashlight weighs 13.1 ounces. My old technology, 3 D-cell aluminum Mag-Lite weighs almost two pounds--1 lb 15 oz--and puts out what some say is 37 lumens.)

Unlike some multifunction flashlights that require you to cycle through all the functions until you reach the one you want, the CT-70F has a smart switch. Click and you get the full on, night-piercing blast of light. Click and it's off. Click and hold and the light goes from bright to dim--just like a dimmer switch. Double click and you get a 700 lumen strobe light. The adjustable bezel (just twist) allows you to select a light throw anywhere from narrow spot to wide flood.

I realize that it's a total cliche to say, "Makes a great gift," but I think any man would be overjoyed to have this flashlight. It may be that not many non-camping men would indulge themselves with a $40 flashlight (it took a somewhat dicey nighttime driving experience through a very dark, iffy neighborhood, unable to read street signs until too late, turning around on a dead-end street amid barking dogs and angry residents, for me to make the final decision).  So, if you want a manly gift idea, here it is.

Friday, May 02, 2014

Drive By Learning

For a number of years now, pundits have remarked on the diminishing attention span of our culture, driven, it is averred, by the visual media: TV, film, MTV, TV commercials, TV news with its terse news bites, and so on. Now, however, some are also thinking about a diminishment in our ability to think long or deeply about anything.

Writers like Nicholas Carr, whose article, "Is Google Making Us Stupid?" suggests this phenomenon with concern, and David Weinberger, whose book, Too Big to Know, suggests that long, deep thinking provided by reading a book is pretty much a historical artifact, made me think that learning itself (such as the university experience) is tracking along these lines.

We used to be able to sit down with a lengthy book and read it carefully and thoughtfully. That last sentence probably lets you know how old I am, for many of today's college students won't know what I'm talking about. And that's the problem. Now, and this is true of me, too, if we attempt to engage a lengthy book or argument, a little voice (or at least, a sense of urgency) starts to irritate us with, "There are many other things to do today. You don't have time for this. Hurry and get the gist. Skim. Glance. Skip. Skirt. Read the summary."

The fact that we can surf from one place on the Web to another in just the blink of an eye (or if you have a crummy Internet connection, in just minutes), turns us into information channel-surfers. Get an answer fast and move on. But this is not good.

If we become mere information skimmers, knowledge hoppers, data browsers, staccato thinkers, unable to read, understand, and process an extended argument, we are likely to be much more open to the information confidence men and women, who know very well how to select details, slant the facts, omit what works against them and double up on what suits their case. We will be much, much more vulnerable to emotional appeals because the emotions can be engaged quickly and with fewer words that are required to engage the brain deeply

And consider:

  • Catching the gist of an idea is not the same as understanding it.
  • Skimmers of gist are able to pay attention only to denotation--the obvious meaning of the words used. But those who create the message are able to exploit connotation--the emotional and sometimes judgmental meaning of words, thus manipulating the reader unaware.
  • Deep thinking requires deep reading.
  • Good decision making must be thoughtful and circumspect, and that cannot be accomplished by soda straw quick sipping off the Web.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

On Persistence

So the guy calls 911. Fire department arrives, with truck and four firemen.
Guy: "He's been walking with little shuffling steps and has lost the ability to speak clearly. I think he has had a stroke."
Fireman 1: "I just did a stroke test, and I don't think he has had a stroke."
Fireman 2: "Yeah, I did the test, too. He hasn't had a stroke."
Soon the ambulance arrives, with two paramedics.
Guy, to paramedics: "I think he's had a stroke."
Fireman 2, to paramedics: "We did the stroke test and he passed."
Paramedic 1: "Yeah, I did the test and he passed, too."
Guy, at hospital, to doctor: "I think he's had a stroke."
Doctor: "I don't think he's had a stroke. His behavior is just the result of his illness. CAT scan shows no bleeding."
Next day.
Doctor: "We did an MRI and it shoes  he's had a stroke."

An Analogy
Guy: "Look at that duck over there. I say 'duck' because it has webbed feet and waddles like a duck."
Observer 1: "It hasn't quacked like a duck, so I don't think it's a duck."
Observer 2: " Yeah, it hasn't quacked, so I don't think it's a duck, either. I think it's a chicken."
More observers arrive. Guy to new observers: "Look at that duck over there."
Observer 2 to Observers 3 and 4: "We don't think it's a duck. It doesn't quack like a duck."
Observers 3 and 4: "Yeah, I've looked at it and haven't  heard it quack either."
Guy, at the veterinarian's office, to the vet: "Can you take care of the duck?"
Vet: "I don't think it's a duck."
Guy: "But it has webbed feet and waddles like a duck and has a bill like a duck."
Vet: "Strange deformities for a chicken, huh?"
Next day.
Vet: "The animal jumped into the pond and started quacking as it paddled around. It's  a duck."

Sometimes you need to get more than a second opinion. Sometimes you need a third or fourth opinion, especially if you have good reason to believe that the conclusions of others are just not right, because they are based on partial, incorrect, or distorted information. Quick, pigeonhole diagnoses should always be viewed with caution.

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Acting in One Lesson

What separates a really good stage or screen actor from those who come across as somehow wooden or fake is the simple fact that good actors don't act. The high school kid in the play acts the way he or she thinks (1) the character would act and (2) the way actors should act. The really good professional actor, instead of pretending to be like the assigned character, becomes that character, embodies that character. The wooden actor imitates another person while the good actor develops an imaginative identification with the assigned character and lives the role.

Perhaps one way to convey this idea is to have you look at two versions of a song. Go to YouTube and watch and listen to Jessica Simpson and Nick Lachey sing  "A Whole New World" from Disney's Aladdin. Then listen to the same song by Brad Kane and Lea Salonga.

Here are some links:

After you watch the faces listen to the singing, tell me who gets it and who doesn't? Which pair has become the characters and which pair is just singing a song? Who is genuine--no scratch that--who demonstrates the passion and feeling of the dramatic situation?

So, here's my Acting in One Lesson advice: Stop acting like the character, stop pretending to be the character, stop talking as the character would, and instead, let yourself become that character. And paradoxically enough, to do that you have to reference yourself. Don't think, How would this character say that, but How would I say that if I were in that situation and had those values or options? (For a bad character, for example, ask, What would I say if I were a liar or confidence artist or thug?  If  you want to be natural,  you need to imitate the most natural person you know--yourself.

In word then: Aspiring actors: You can become a good actor by becoming the character by putting yourself into the character in the situation. Connect  yourself to the dramatic situation, not just to the dialog. I hope that makes sense.

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Bragging Rights

Why do we brag? And what do we brag about?

Bragging or boasting is often done on the basis of mere association. That is, we have some peripheral connection with something that others admire, so we brag about it. "My team won! [therefore, I am great, too!]" Um, what, exactly, did you have to do with that performance? You assisted in that win and deserve credit how? You supported the team by watching them on TV and drinking beer? Or maybe you even bought a ticket? Wow, that is so amazing. Why, you practically won that game all by yourself.

"I drive a Mercedes! [therefore, I am impressive, just like M Benz!]" Um, the fact that you could buy or lease a Mercedes makes you impressive how? Shows that you have money? What  year is it? "Um, 1992. But I paid only $1700 for it! I got a super deal. So, I can brag about being shrewd!" Yeah, but save your money for that $4500 transmission repair coming up. Marketers say that the car you drive is a personal statement about who you are, an extension of your personality. I don't know. What if your lips say Lamborghini, but your wallet says Ford Fiesta?

"Well, my kid got kid of the month at school." And that reflects on your wonderfulness how? That  you are a great parent somehow responsible for  your kid's performance? Now, if you brag on behalf of your child rather than yourself, then you are on firmer ground.

"Well, the fact is, I'm [choose one: smart, rich, good looking, famous, influential]." This brings us to today's word of wisdom: "What do you have that you did not receive? And if you did receive it, why do you boast as if you had not received it?" --1 Corinthians 4:7b

All of our talents, abilities, and personal attributes are a gift from God, so boasting about them is ridiculous. "I'm so great because I'm cute," doesn't cut the mustard of logic. You might boast about your parents' DNA that let you be cute, but that's a gift from the Lord via your parents.

Do we have so little genuine, humble self-esteem that we have to turn to loose associations with people and things that our short-attention-span peers find remarkable?

Let's see, what can I brag about? I once met a guy who knew the third cousin of a woman who shook hands with a guy who owned a store where a man shopped who had his hair cut by a barber who heard that the friend of a friend of a customer knew someone who once met Elvis Presley. I am soooo stoked!!! Me and
Elvis! We're just like this!

Do you admire me now?

Friday, April 25, 2014

How Flashlights Prove the Value of Objective Standards

Remember a few years ago when flashlights had no fixed, defined, objective standard for brightness, distance, or even how long the light would last before the batteries croaked?
Ads for those D-cell flashlights would say, "Super Bright!" "Max Brightness!" "One-Mile Range!" "Best Performance!" and of course, "Long-Lasting!"

This is the problem of a lack of objective, measurable standards. Without them, we are reduced to subjective opinion. And opinion is subject to bias and self-interest. "In my opinion, the light from this flashlight is indeed Super Bright." And, "In my opinion, my flashlight has the best performance."

[Interruption for advertising clarification. In real life, "best" is a claim of superiority. "I am the best!" But in the bizarre world of advertising, "best" is a parity claim. All marketers can claim their product is the best. And so everyone is the best and all are equal. Just don't claim your product is "better" unless you have tons of evidence because "better" is a superiority claim in the advertising world.]

So LED flashlights arrive and the wild claims continue. A few marketers start using "candlepower" which varies depending on how it is measured (how far from the bulb, for example). But still open to subjective manipulation. In other words, my 20,000 candlepower flashlight might be brighter or dimmer than your 20,000 candlepower flashlight.

Enter the ANSI (American National Standards Institute) FL-1 standard, which measures flashlight output in lumens according to a fixed protocol.

Yesterday, I just happened to be flashlight shopping and noticed the variety of light output. There were flashlights rated from 9 lumens (a traditional 2-D-cell flashlight, through 64, 120, 200, 700 and so on. Of course, the 9-lumen light was only $2.49 while the 700-lumen light was $39.99, but you now can make an informed choice.

[Last  caution. If you shop on the Web, be careful because lots of ads will claim huge lumen outputs for very low cash. They might not be measuring by the FL-1 standard.]

Philosophical conclusion: Fixed standards, like fixed values (hint: Ten Commandments) make decision making much easier--and with more reliable results.

Is Commerce Controlling Our Attention and Thinking?

I was just glancing over some Web stats regarding page views and advertising revenues and the thought occurred to me that, on the Web at least, our attention and thinking is being distorted in the direction of buyable stuff. Here's my simple reasoning, backed by some stats.

1. Web content creators in many cases are interested in monetizing their sites.
2. The way to make money on a site is to display advertisements.
3. The ads displayed are often linked to the content of the page.
4. People click on ads that offer things of interest, which are often tangible products.
5. The bigger ticket the tangible product, the more the click is likely to pay.
6. Therefore, Web content providers are rewarded more by content that lends itself directly ads offering related products than by content that does not.

Example: If I talk about cars, I might get car ads. If I talk about virtue or procrastination or Pascal's book Pensees, what advertiser will I interest? (I saw a list of top click paying phrases, and except for some oddball ones like "mesothelioma lawyers," most were about stuff you can buy.

So, should I be virtuous and discuss philosophy, the way I want to, or should I be more interested in making a buck and discuss toaster ovens or flashlights?

I suppose that the counter argument to the pretension that talking about stuff is a less noble thing than discussing philosophy is that many (most?) Web searchers are much more interested in reading about, say, the new Honda Accord (notice how cleverly I slipped that in?) that about, say, Marcus Aurelius' Meditations.

Maybe I can do both. See the next post on flashlights.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Car Dealers Get a Clue

Now that I've ragged (deservedly) on Toyota dealers and cars, let me hasten to note that other dealers have accumulated their share of poor service and poor quality, too.

My dad bought a 1972 Pontiac Firebird, which was lots of fun to drive, except for a few problems. (1) The car  had only a two-speed automatic transmission, giving us 14 mpg. (2) From day one, the power brakes required that we just about stand on the brake pedal to get the car to stop. (3) The car began overheating regularly a few months after we bought it.

Naturally, the car was under warranty, so we took both issues to the Pontiac dealer. The brakes check out okay, they told us, and as for the overheating, well, it's summer now and the weather is hot. Lots of people are having overheating problems.

When the warranty was over, the dealer said, "Your brakes are crystallized and need to be replaced, and we'll look into that overheating problem, too."

That, and the fact that the original set of tires lasted only 14,000 miles (remember those cheap-o bias ply tires on American cars in those days?) caused my father to trade the car in.

The first car I bought myself was a 1977 Buick Regal. I was going to get another Chevy Nova to replace the 1969 Nova my dad had given me, but after price shopping, I discovered the Regal was only a few hundred dollars more. I ordered it through the mail, might  have been via Consumer Reports, (I've forgotten), and it was to be delivered to the Buick dealer in my town (Corona, California). The car arrived and the Corona Buick dealer refused to accept it. The $125 or so paperwork fee was apparently not enough. So, I got a call from a Buick dealer in Pasadena, and had to drive over there to pick it up.

On another occasion, I went with my dad to shop for a new car. We went to a Chevy dealer and found a reasonable car. However, the salesman wasn't very flexible. We made what I thought (and know now) was a very reasonable offer. The salesman left us to "talk to his boss" to see if the deal was okay. Unfortunately, my dad, not realizing that the sales booth was likely bugged, said to me, "You know, I'm not going to buy very many more cars, and I can afford this one." (He was getting up in years.) So the salesman and sales manager come back into the office, and the sales manager says, "Your offer isn't good enough. The best we can do is $----." I thought that was way too much, might even have been over sticker, so I convinced my dad to shop around a bit more. On our way out the door, the sales manager said, just loud enough for me to hear, "Next time, bring money."

More Problems with Toyota

I've been watching an auto refurbishing show, Wheeler Dealers, where Mike and Ed buy a used car and fix it up for resale. It made me wonder if I should try the same, only buy an old car to fix up for a runabout. That made me think back to my favorite car ever, a dark blue 1986 Toyota Celica. And that reminded me of yet more dealer disappointments, these from a different dealer.

1. The 86 Celica had a timing belt, not a timing chain, so it needed to be changed periodically. I was informed that the 1.8 liter engine was an "interference" design, which meant that if the timing belt broke, the pistons and valves would collide and destroy the engine. So I agreed to have the timing belt replaced. Long story short, the dealer stretched the wiring while lifting the engine, breaking an ignition wire. As a result, I'd be driving down the street or on the freeway and the engine would suddenly stop. On the freeway, this resulted in a desperate attempt to restart the engine, which was successful after several tries. I took the car back to the dealer, who (1) completely disowned all responsibility for the problem and (2) couldn't find out what was wrong, since the problem was intermittent.

I took the car to a third part foreign car electrical specialist, who couldn't find out what was wrong, either, but suggested replacing the igniter, which I did to no effect. I finally had to trade the care in when I changed to Honda because, even though I loved that little car (in spite of its lousy brakes and underpowered engine).

2. Earlier, I bought new tires at a tire store, and there they pointed out some inside-edge front tire wear, symptomatic of an alignment problem. So I took the car to the Toyota dealer and had the wheels aligned along with some other service, such as an oil change. Not too long after that, I noticed some inside-edge front tire wear appearing on the new tires. The dealer said there would be a charge to recheck it, so I took the car to a third-party alignment shop. "After they aligned your wheels," the service manager of the shop said, "did they give you a printout showing before and after settings on all four wheels?" I told him I didn't get any printout. "They probably didn't align your wheels," he said. I had the wheels aligned and got a printout and had no more unusual wear.

While I'm complaining about Toyota, I might add that the fly-by-wire design of the accelerator is problematic for two reasons. (Fly-by-wire means that there is no longer a mechanical linkage from the gas pedal to the fuel injector system: it's all electronic.) (1) it's very difficult for me to accelerate from a stop gradually; instead, the car tends to leap from a stop when I push down, trying ever so gently to get a smooth takeoff. (2) What's really bad is that when I take my foot off the gas pedal, the car continues to go almost the same speed for some time before it begins to slow down. With the old, mechanical system, when you take your foot off the gas pedal, the engine heads for idle immediately and the car slows down rapidly. That's the preferred driving experience.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Missing Parts

Why do we have to learn the same lesson over and over again and still not grow wise enough to make the same mistake even still yet again another time?

Lessons I have learned repeatedly:
1. When you ask for help finding an item, the store employee will grab the item on the top of the pile.
2. The item on the top of the pile of items is a returned item, brought back by a customer.
3. Returned items are always missing parts.

If you're like me, when you shop for an item, you make sure you get a box or package that hasn't been opened or returned. But when an employee walks halfway through the store, grabs the item you want and hands it to you, you sometimes accept it. We don't want to be impolite and say, I'd like an unopened one, please.

1. Drill driver, but missing battery charger.
2. Shower bracket, missing screws.
3. Towel rack, missing mounting hardware.

Word to the wise, avoid returned packages. Make sure the item is sealed, or lacking sealed packaging, that all the parts are there.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Notes from the Scratch Paper

The meteor attracts our eye, but it cannot direct our paths. For direction, we must rely on the fixed star, even though it sometimes might be hidden by fog or cloud.

The true depth of a pond cannot be known unless it is tested. So too is the true depth of human claims. How great, deep, or solid is knowledge, courage, love, perseverance, faith, integrity, and the like, we can know with certainty only when they are challenged.

Several members of a tour group were enjoying the sights of a waterfall in a popular tropical paradise when one noted a pile of trash littering the lawn nearby.
     "Isn't that disgusting?" one of them said.
     "Yes, that's terrible," said another. "What's wrong with people?"
     "That ruins the experience," said a third. "Someone ought to pick it up."
     "Don't look at me," the first one said. "I didn't put it there."
A fourth tourist, who had said nothing, quietly picked up all the litter--the cans, chip bags, crumpled napkins, even a soggy diaper--and put it all into a nearby trash can.
     "Good for you," one of the others said.
     "I don't know how you can touch that stuff," said another.
     "Why did you pick that up?" asked the third.
     "I've always believed," answered the quiet one, "that I should leave every place and every person a little better than when I arrived."
     "How quaint," said the third tourist.
     "I can't always make an improvement," the quiet one said, "but I must always try."
     "That's so precious, you little custodian," said the second tourist, not realizing that the quiet one was speaking about much more that some trash on the lawn.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Swahili Proverbs

What makes Swahili proverbs stand our it their musicality. Many of the proverbs convey the same message as our English counterparts, but they do so in delightfully rhythmic, often rhetorically balanced, and sometimes rhyming fashion.

Haraka haraka haina baraka.
Quick quick is without blessing.
English counterpart (also rhyming): Haste makes waste.

Hasira hasara.
Anger loss.
English counterpart: An angry man stirs up strife, and  hot-tempered man abounds in transgression. --Proverbs 29:22

Abufaaye kwa dhiki ndiye rafiki.
One who profits you in times of need is a true friend.
English counterpart:  A friend in need is a friend indeed.

Polepole ndiyo mwendo.
Slowly is the way to go.
English counterpart: Slow and steady wins the race.

Mganga hajigangi.
A doctor doesn't heal himself.
English counterpart: A doctor who treats himself has a fool for a patient.

Proverbs encapsulate the core truths of human nature, which is the same throughout every culture. They provide food for thought and anchor points for decision making.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Why Fear of Failure Is the Same as Fear of Success

"This doesn't work. It's broken, and no one knows how to fix it."
"Let me take a look at it."
"Do you know how to fix it?"
"Not at all. Never seen it before."
"Do you know what you're doing?"
"Then just what are you going to do?"
"I don't know. Try something."
"But what if you make a mistake?"
"Oh, I'm sure I'll make a lot of mistakes."
"You're planning to fail?"
"Of course. By learning what doesn't work, I hope I can get some insight into what will work."
"So your method of problem solving is based on vague hope and certain failure."
"That's right. That's the pavement on every heuristic road to success."

Thursday, April 17, 2014

That's Redundant, and You Already Said It

Writing teachers are quick to slash through repetitive, redundant language in their students' essays, and (except in marketing) so are business people.

However, we live in an attention economy, where getting people to focus on a message long enough to comprehend it provides a major challenge. To get someone's attention, the message has to be repeated many times. For example, did you ever count the number of times the radio ad repeats the phone number of the sponsor? Often, it's five times during a 30-second spot.

Redundancy can be even more useful than repetition, because it provides both an extended length of time to allow the message to sink in and alternate language that may get through when the original phrasing did not: "Room and Board included. We will provide a comfortable place to stay and all your meals."

Redundancy goes large when the message is critical: "Warning of fatal shock! You could be killed! Danger of electrocution! Keep ladder well away from overhead power lines. If ladder touches overhead wires, you could receive a fatal electric shock and die." Quibblers will scoff and ask, "So, um, could you receive "a fatal electric shock" and NOT die?" But the lawyers who work for the ladder company will not be budged. (By the way, did you ever count the warning labels on a ladder? One of my ladders has 11 warnings on it.)

Redundancy and/or repetition can be desirable when the information is very important or when the target audience needs reassurance about the fact. So we need to think of the emotional as well as the intellectual needs of the reader.

Finally, thee is the Coca Cola Rule. Why does Coke advertise? Is it to get new customers who have never heard of Coca Cola? "Coke, eh? Hmm. I'll have to try that sometime." Coke's constant repetition, like that of any aggressive brand, is not to provide new information ("Coke? Never heard of it.), but to maintain presence in the overflowing information economy--to reset attention, to remind you. ("Coke? Of course. Haven't had one for a few days. Let's go get a float.")

At a recent visit to the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, Samsung was all over the place continuing to build its brand image and awareness. The company had painted the entire side of a building with a huge Samsung logo on it, put up banners, attached signs to buses and taxis, printed various cards and brochures, put ads in the show publications, and, of course, had a large booth in the exhibit area.

Finally, in the attention economy, repetition is designed to make familiar the unfamiliar or even the unknown. That's why candidates for office put up signs everywhere with little other than their name on them: "Joe Freen for Congress." If nothing else, they will have name recognition on the ballot when voting time arrives. And we nearly always prefer the familiar or known to the unfamiliar or unknown.

Purposeful redundancy can be a positive practice.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Seek First to Understand

One of the things that irritates me substantially is the news or panel-style program where three or four people do nothing but interrupt and talk over each other, jumping on half a sentence spoken by someone they disagree with. A similar kind of disrespectful, instant judgment behavior is increasingly common in our ordinary social interactions.

Suppose we are in a small group and someone says, "Confucius made a significant contribution to Western civilization." Someone else in the group is likely to smirk and step in immediately with, "You mean Eastern civilization. Confucius was Chinese." Or perhaps simply, "Hellooo! Confucius was Chinese you know. From the East, not the West."

A polite audience would have simply waited for elaboration, or perhaps prompted, "In what way?" And here the answer could have been that the speaker thought the Latin translation of the Analects that was introduced into Europe in 1687 was influential for its views about the desired behavior of the gentleman.

Too often we jump all over someone's statement before we even know what they are talking about, but based on our assumptions about what we think they mean. It's also interesting that, since criticism is valued above agreement (because it supposedly shows better analysis or keener insight), hardly anyone interrupts with, "That's very true," or "I really agree." Instead, it's, "That's wrong," or "You don't know what you're talking about."

If we were really curious in conversation rather than interested only in "talking for victory," we would encourage those talking to elaborate, specify, exemplify, and delineate their views instead of cutting them off before we know what their views really are. We would seek first to understand.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

The Hunger for Truth

Blaise Pascal says that "man wants to be happy and to be assured of some truth" (Lafuma 123). Strange thing about that. It's true even in today's relativistic, postmodern world.

Note how people who argue that there is no such thing as truth (or Truth), that there are many "truths," that our minds cannot know truth but only the epiphenomena of our brain chemistry--all are adamant, even outrageously aggressive--to support and defend the truth of those philosophies. Of course, such positions are embarrassed by self-referential absurdity--self contradiction--but nevertheless it's telling how earnestly and  how strongly committed so many of these people are.

But Pascal is right. We want assurance of some truth. This explains why so many try so hard to locate evidence for the rightness of their beliefs, whether social, moral, scientific, philosophical, or religious.

"We have no free will or free thought," someone says. "Everything we say or do or think is predetermined."
"So, then, why are you telling me this?"
"To convince you."
"But if all our thoughts and ideas are predetermined, there can be no such thing as a change of mind independent of predetermined changes. Argument, reason, and conviction are illusions. But I guess your need to try to convince me is predetermined, so you can't help yourself. And unfortunately, I'm predetermined not to believe you."

The same comments could be made about man's search for meaning. Some people argue that life has no meaning, and they are earnest to convince everyone else that such is the truth. But if life has no meaning, why bother? Why care? Nor does it help much to say, "Well, we as individuals or societies construct socially agreed upon meanings." Doesn't that sound a bit arbitrary? As the saying is, In a land without steak, cardboard is steak. If the real thing is denied or missing, a counterfeit will be invented.

What Should We Value in Life?

Suppose I show you some object and say, "This is a flurnitron. Isn't it perfect?" What would you answer?

That's right, you'd ask, "What does it do?" or more skeptically, "What is it supposed to do?" But in either case, you want to know its purpose, because you cannot tell whether something is good or bad until you know its purpose and how well it fulfills that purpose.

Thus, your first question about the flurnitron would not be, "How much electricity does it use?" or "Is it made of steel?" or the like. Until you know what it was designed to do, those questions are irrelevant. What we value in an object is not what it's made of or how it's powered--until we understand the relevance of those answers.

So, when we think about our own lives, before we can answer, "Am I a good person living a worthwhile life?" we have to determine the purpose for which we exist. For if everything exists to fulfill its purpose, we can evaluate everything based on the extent each thing fulfills its purpose.

If, as the marketers seem to imply, our purpose is to consume products and spend money, then many of us do that really well. If we have no purpose, then it doesn't matter what we do, and there is no estimation of fitness to purpose possible. But if we do have a purpose--to serve God who created us and to be his hands in serving his children--our fellow human beings--then we can adjust our lives to align ever more closely with that purpose. That purpose, to steal a few words from Shakespeare, "is the star to every wandering bark," providing a fixed focal point for our behavior.

Therefore, we can see that finding the best steak in town or memorizing the names of all the players on a favorite professional sports team or driving the fanciest car on the block are activities that do not really speak to our purpose. I myself am rather embarrassed to think of the highly tangential nature of many of my own pursuits. These comments, then, are addressed to me.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Everyone Knows That

Some people object to being reminded of "obvious" truths, such as are found in proverbs: "A house is turned into a home one kind word at a time." But consider. First, we live in such an overwhelming information tsunami that unless we repeat common truths, they will sink into oblivion under the wash of everything else.

And often that everything else includes misinformation, disinformation, lies, half truths, urban legends, myths, conspiracy theories, ideological fabrications, spin doctor treatments, invented narratives, and  misunderstandings, not to mention simple errors, superfluities, and data smog.

In a word, lies are repeated endlessly and constantly. Lies are shouted from the housetops and pronounced solemnly by pundits and academics with many letters after their names. Lies drone on and on--wasn't it Hitler himself who said something to the effect that a lie repeated often enough will be believed?

So, if we don't repeat truth, it has no possibility of overcoming the lies. Error will reign and people will congratulate each other that "the controversy has finally been settled" because no one now opposes the ever-repeated wrong conclusion.

Online Address Forms Pet Peeve

Maybe I need to get a life if this is the biggest thing I can complain of, but here it is, anyway.

Whenever I have to fill out an address online, it usually goes like this:

Name: Blah Blah

Country: Here, I usually find a drop down list of countries, even on a site like Sally's Local Cupcakes. The United States half the time is listed near the bottom (alphabetical order, you know), so a huge scroll down is needed. A few sites have listed the source of 99% of their business (US, UK, Canada) at the top before the alphabetical list begins.

Street Address: Blah Blah

City: fill in

State: fill in

Zip Code: fill in

And that's exactly my peeve. Hello!!! If the site asked for the zip code right after the street address, then the Country, City, and State names could be autopopulated through a zip code/post code lookup. Is that so hard?

United States zipcodes, such as 98765 are quite different from UK codes, such as AB12 3CD and those differ from Canadian post codes such as T4B 1M5. So the country look up should work for the major players. At the minimum, go ahead and ask the country first and then the post code.

Come to think of it, any smart Web site can look back at the originating IP address of the browser, at least to the country level, and likely to the local POP (point of presence). When I used to use a VPN connection while working from home, I could browse over to Home Depot and see how much cheaper items were in Minnesota, where the company's servers connected to the Net.

Ok. Enough whining.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Old and Not So Old Books

"The only palliative [to the blindness of shared assumptions in the modern world] is to keep the clean sea breeze of the centuries blowing through our minds, and this can be done only by reading old books." --C. S. Lewis

"Truth that triumphs over all things . . . seems to remain more usefully and to fructify to greater profit in books. For the meaning of the voice perishes with the sound; truth latent in the mind is wisdom that s hid and treasure that is not seen; but truth which shines forth in books desires to manifest itself to every impressionable sense". --Richard de Bury, Philobiblon, circa 1345

Lewis was thinking about really old books, such as those of the ancient Greek philosophers, or even somewhat old books, such as Philobiblon, quoted above, but even slightly non-contemporary books can sometimes shed light on the blindness of groupthink that seems to possess every era to some extent. I have in my library an introduction to American literature textbook from the early twentieth century, listing Herman Melville in an appendix as an "also wrote," while featuring now-neglected writers such as Booth Tarkington.

An interesting example of a not-so-old book about the sources of modern and postmodern times is The Revolt Against Reason by Arnold Lunn. It was published in England in 1950 and by Sheed and Ward in New York in 1951. (You can still get copies, though. Just google the author and title.)  Here is some food for thought drawn from Mr. Lunn.

"[T]he success and enduring influence of a systematic construction of falsehood depends very largely on inexact terminology" (3). Consider how squishy and inexact are many of the terms over which bitter debates are fought: climate change, evolution, social justice, reason and faith, knowledge versus belief, what is fair, legislating morality. And of course we won't even go to love, need, fairness, and so on. When you can use a term, knowing that your definition is different from that of your hearer or reader, but allowing them to assume that their definition is yours too, then all kinds of manipulation are possible.

Thinking about the anti-rationalism of postmodernism and what I have called Type 2 people, we can find a relevant remark in Lunn: "The revolt against reason is in its ultimate essence the revolt of unbridled individualism against an external and objective code" (50). Reason favors objective measurements, which rely on a code of values and truth, which implies accountability external to oneself. The revolt against reason produces subjectivity of measurement, an existentialist operating method, and a solipsistic view of living for oneself.

But I should let Lunn continue: "The great leaders of this revolt have all been wishful thinkers who contrived to believe that reality could be forced to conform to the pattern shaped by their ambition or by their lust" (59). Doesn't that nicely describe the utopianism of so many of our elites?


Worldviews 101, Part 4

Continuing our differentiation between Type 1 and Type 2 people (which I realize is very general and subject to much qualification and many exceptions and variations),

Type 1 people tend to be more willing to submit to authority, even to the point of mistaking an equation between legality and morality.
Type 2 people tend to resist authority, and many times confuse the difference between authority and authoritarianism.

Type 1 people sing "Humble Yourself in the Sight of the Lord" when they drive to work.
Type 2 people sing "I Did It My Way" when they drive to work.

Type 1 people often keep their opinions to themselves, because Type 2 people are often so much more aggressive and vocal about their views.

Type 1 people believe that language, as imprecise as it is, is an ordering and structuring tool, a tool for understanding. Without this use of abstract symbols, we would find it almost impossible to share our beliefs about the structure of the universe, to analyze our perceptions of the external world, and to draw conclusions about the reality beneath it all.

Type 2 people, especially the postmodernists among them,  reject "totalizing narratives" (claims of absolute truth and objective reality), just as they dismiss reason and "privileged interpretations" of texts.

So. to an extent, the so-called culture wars represent a battle between authority and the self, or in starkest relief, between pride and humility, where humility is defined as the recognition of a higher authority than oneself. The message of classical Western philosophy is that happiness comes through the submission of personal desire and appetite to reason, a reason informed by transcendent, objective reality and absolute truth. In other words, self control for the sake of personal happiness and the social contract is the path to the Good.

Familiarity Trumps Accuracy

Why is it that whenever an airliner crashes, the media announce that investigators are searching for the "black boxes" to help them determine the cause of the crash--this, when the "black boxes" have been painted orange for, what, maybe 50 years? Why don't the media simply say that investigators are searching for the "data and voice recorders" to help them determine the cause of the crash?

Similarly, since the Richter scale was replaced by the Moment Magnitude scale in the 1970s, why do the media still refer to the Richter scale whenever we have an earthquake?

Someone opined that people are comfortable with familiar concepts. The logical conclusion to be drawn from that is that the news should tell people something they already know. That's an odd view of the news. Nevertheless, many journalists seem to write stories from templates, making the new details conform to the familiar script.

If a story is written as it is, rather than forced to grow on the trellis of stereotype, will the readers or viewers have to learn something new?

Is the news consuming public really like junior high school students who stop reading something just because they came up on a word they don't know?

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Why I Don't Admire Toyota

In an earlier blog entry, I mentioned the power of story to persuade. Here are some experiences I've had with Toyota. See what you think.

Experience 1. My wife's 2010 Camry turned on the traction control fault light. I hunted for my OBD II code reader for a couple of days, but couldn't find it. "So what?" I thought. "I spent over a thousand dollars for the extended warranty, so I'll just take it to the Toyota dealer and have it fixed." So I did.
     A few hours later, the dealer said the car was ready. "The gas cap wasn't on tight enough," the service manager said. "The code showed that."
     "Why was the traction control fault light on," I asked.
     "They do that sometimes," he said.
     "Thank you, Mr. Dealer."
     "That will be $112 please."
     "Just for reading and resetting the code?"
     "But I have the extended warranty."
     "Not covered."

Experience 2. I took the Camry in to a Goodyear store to have the oil changed and tires rotated.
     "Your left front and right rear struts are leaking," the dealer said. Since it's not good to replace only one strut because of uneven handling (in the same way you shouldn't replace only one tire), all four should be replaced."
     "Good thing I have the extended warranty," I said.
     So I took the car to the Toyota dealer and reported the analysis of the Goodyear mechanic. A few hours later, the dealer called and said, "We have permission from Toyota to replace one strut."
     "But two are leaking."
     "Well, according to Toyota, there's leaking and then there's leaking. Your right rear strut isn't leaking enough to be replaced."
     "It's leaking, but leaking is okay??!!"
     "But what about replacing them in pairs?"
     The dealer didn't have the part in stock, so I had to return a few days later.

Experience 3. A couple of days after the strut replacement, my wife pulled into a parking lot and the right engine under cover panel fell off. When she got home, I looked over (or rather under) the situation and discovered that the left under cover panel was dangling by only a couple of screws, instead of the eight it should have. I took the car back to the dealer.
     "Please first, check to see if the strut replacement was done correctly, with no bolts missing or loose, and then replace the under covers properly."
     "We'll look into it," the service manager said.
     The next day (when the "Red Team" is working again) I get a call.
     "The Red Team says that the panel that came off has nothing to do with the strut replacement and that replacing the under cover panels will be $347."
     "But the two panels share several screws in common. How can they have nothing to do with the replacement of the strut since those screws need to be removed as part of the left undercover panel removal? And why was the left panel left with only two screws installed?"
     "I don't know."

Experience 4. I've been thinking about adding a backup camera to my 2013 Tacoma (the last Toyota I will ever buy). Since the truck is already wired for a camera and the display is standard equipment for the radio, all I need is the camera unit. Similar units on the Web are available for $30 to $80 or so, CMOS, color, 170 degree angle, etc. So how much does Toyota want for a camera that will plug into the Tacoma wiring harness? The list price is $815.02, but some benevolent dealers will sell it for as little as $611.23.
     Note to Toyota: You'd make a lot more money, not to mention improving on the public's view of the company, if you offered a do-it-yourself kit that included the camera and instructions for, say, $99. Or an aftermarket install with camera and labor done by the dealer for $199.
     If I may generalize, car manufacturers and dealerships alike need to study up on their economics, particularly the lesson on elasticity of demand and price sensitivity. How many cameras has Toyota sold at $815? No doubt the insurance companies are getting soaked over rear-end collisions that knock out the camera, but how many cameraless Toyota owners have slapped down their Visa cards and had the camera installed? And how many would go for it for a reasonable price?

So, those are my stories. And they show why I don't admire Toyota.

Wednesday, April 09, 2014

Worldviews 101, Part 3

Because Type 2 people tend to believe that human nature is flexible and can be changed for the better, it follows that the right circumstances (read: government-imposed laws, regulations, morals, programs) can bring about a happy and healthy society, if not paradise on earth. The Marxists used to propose that eventually government itself would end after the social and economic order was appropriately reformed. Unfortunately, more than 150 million people have died during the process of trying to implement earthly nirvana along Marxist lines.

One of the few remaining Marxist experiments is North Korea, where the situation is so dire and the starving people so miserable that the Left in the United States has begun to claim that DPRK (Democratic People's Republic of Korea) is actually a Fascist state instead of a communist state. True, pictures of Lenin and Stalin have been recently removed from public buildings in North Korea, but the cult of personality (compare Mao in China) seems to fit the communist-society-on-the-way-to-paradise format, as does the idea that a fearless leader is the one to take everyone there.

The point is, however, that Type 2 people are utopians, who believe that controlling the structure of the world (society and nature) will bring about goodness, or at least alleviate much of society's suffering. Because type 2 people frequently either mock religion outwardly or relegate it to the privacy of one's home, they are unwilling to advocate personal reformation as a solution to societal or family problems.

For example. What can be done about the high percentage of children born out of wedlock and raised by only their mothers?
Type 1 response: Improve education about the risks of illegitimacy, advocate moral instruction, hold fathers accountable for their children, develop community support for marriage and family and discourage damaging behaviors.
Type 2 response: Offer welfare support to the single mother, avoid moral instruction or community support ideas, because those will be "blaming the victim," Implement government programs to assist the (now) poor women--who have three kids and no job.

Type 1 people, as mentioned, often worship God--together with all that implies about the supernatural. They look upon the process of metamorphosis, the complexity of the simplest single-cell organisms, or even the amazing qualities of water as testimony to a Creator.
Type 2 people may also believe in God. But both those who do and those who don't frequently channel their religious emotions into protecting and preserving the natural world. It's  something akin to the nature worship of old. Environmentalism, activism over climate change, opposition to oil pipelines, all these kinds of things reflect Type 2 people's concerns.

So, when someone wonders why an extra billion dollars needs to be spent to reroute a highway in order to protect the habitat of a rare frog or bird, you can understand the trade off if you understand it on the basis of the Type 2's religious commitment to the environment.