Tuesday, September 07, 2010

Kindle-icious

As promised a few pics of the new Kindle.

A few items for reference

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Next to the now gargantuan-seeming 10” MSI netbook.

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Close-up showing cover detail.

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And even closer showing text from a free Gutenberg text.

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Monday, September 06, 2010

I’ve been Kindle-ated

My Kindle arrived this weekend!

When Amazon released their 3rd generation Kindle e-book reader and significantly reduced the price point (the Wi-fi only version is $139, 3G wireless is $189) I took the plunge.

Those of you who’ve been following my more recent posts on the e-book developments (click here and here) know that I’m starting to favor Amazon’s Kindle model over Apple’s iPad model for ebooks. Here are the 3 basic reasons:

1. Amazon is platform agnostic. Yes, I can get a Kindle, but I can also use my PC, my netbook, my Blackberry, or even my iPod and iPad to read Amazon Kindle books. Amazon wants the ebook channel; the money is in the consumables (as it is with iTunes). Not every Kindle book has to be read on a Kindle device ahd Amazon recognizes this.

2. Amazon has the channel already. Selling books over the internet for years they have been dealing with book publishers for that long, and they have pull with publishers due to the volume of books they sell online.

3. They get the pricing, both with device and the content. This is especially true with the latest generation Kindle readers. They are not trying to compete with the iPad; instead they are trying to offer a slimmed down device, but a highly improved reading experience. And the book prices. Kindle editions are all normally 30%-50% off of the regular Amazon list price. If I save roughly 5$ on every book purchase I will have paid for the device after only 30 purchases.

So here are the things I like about the new Kindle.

  • e-paper. Any LCD screen has always been a readability compromise for me. I can only read on my netbook for an hour or two before feeling it. The Kindle display is amazing. I read today for almost 8 hours without any sort of fatigue. The newer display boast a higher contrast ratio, and resolution than previous models and the white is a bright white that is visible even in dimly lit situations (although you can’t read in the dark with it.) In fact, the Kindle arrived with the screen on! The screen boasted a high res image of a famous author and it took me a few seconds to realize that it wasn’t a vinyl decal I had to peel off, but rather it was the actual display.
  • Size and weight. The 3rd generation Kindle has decreased both size and weight by about 20% in each dimension, without reducing the screen area. At only 8 ounces and not much larger than a trade paperback, the unit is amazingly comfortable. It reads with the comfort of a think paperback, and I can hold it easily with two fingers. My netbook weights 2.2 lbs and the iPad weights 1.6 lbs. No comparison on the reading experience. The Kindle is the only one that’s comfortable to hold for extended periods. It’s hard to get a sense of actually how comfortable the Kindle is until you’ve compared it.
  • Multi-platform sync. If I bookmark or write a note in the Kindle “margin,” it syncs with all my other versions of the Kindle software. Boot up my laptop and open up the same book and all my notes and my previous location have been updated. I can even see notes that others have made in the same book.
  • Annotation. While the Kindle keyboard and note functionality isn’t great for extended annotation, it is great for “marginalia.” In fact, if I’m actually going to “study” a book, I prefer this as it lets me “mark and go,” and then later sync to a platform that is much better for note taking or broad synthesis of multiple notes across multiple chapters.This is the way I study paper books. I make prolific marginalia as I’m reading, but focus on the flow; only later sit down with a pad of paper to synthesize major points and broad themes by reviewing my margin notes. I even get all my marginalia in a separate note file with references, which I can then export and edit on my laptop.
  • Battery life. A huge Kindle plus. Because the e-ink display uses batter power primarily only when it’s changing pages, the battery life is up to a month (with wireless turned off). This makes it truly more like a book than a computing device. My netbook will give me 4 max with the screen contrast turned down. The iPad claims more like 10 or 12 hours. With both you have to worry about charging regularly. With the Kindle I can take it on vacation and not worry if I forget my charger.
  • Amazon conversion of personal documents. I can email personal word, text, html and pdf documents to an email address set up for my Kindle and Amazon will convert them automatically to the proper format and put them into my download queue. If you’re wi-fi, then download is free (wireless download incurs a charge).
  • Social networking. I can quote a passage, along with my marginalia comments to Facebook and/or Twitter. Great when you find a juicy quote you know others will appreciate.
  • Onboard dictionary.  Let’s face it. I don’t stop to find out what a new word means. It’s rare that I absolutely need it. With the Kindle just move the cursor to the word and it’s definition pops up. I now know what a “daube” is.

Downsides. There are a few, although rather than restating how the Kindle is not an iPad, I’m going to focus things that could be improved qua the e-book reader that it is.

  • Keyboard. The keyboard is a small QWERTY keyboard at the very bottom of the unit. I type on it more like my Blackberry (unit held with two hands, using thumbs to type). This works ok, but I find that the keyboard is a little two low on the unit and as a result is a little top-heavy as I’m trying to type. Also, to reduce keys they have added a “symbol” menu but typing symbols requires you to move the cursor amongst 4 rows and 10 or so columns of optional symbols to select each one individually. Not so bad if they were less frequently used, but even basic punctuation can only be accessed via this clunky menu. Numbers can be reached by key combinations on the keyboard (although they aren’t marked). It would help is at least a question mark, exclamation point, and comma were also accessible in this manner. I also find myself expecting cell phone-like text shortcuts and am remiss when my “u r” doesn’t change into a “you are” automatically like it does on my Blackberry.
  • Interface. It’s basic. You can put your books into file folders or “collections,” go shopping at the Kindle store, search relatively easily but that’s about all.
  • Extras. The extras are curiosities at best. There is a web browser. You can listen to music via mp3’s you load on the unit, and text to speech is neat. However, none of them are particularly highly functional. Text to speech is a drone monotone that misses most unpunctuated turn of phrase. Buy an audio book instead.

The take-away for me is this. In the spirit of “sticking to it’s knitting” the Kindle lets you do one thing and one thing superbly well: read books. It does so at an unbeatable price point, and gives you access to the best-priced selection of ebooks on the market. I’m sold.

I do plan on posting pics shortly.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Objectivist Round-up #162

Welcome to the August 19, 2010 edition of objectivist round up.

Welcome to this 162nd edition of the Objectivist Round Up, a blog carnival of posts written by individuals who are advocates of Objectivism: the philosophy developed and defined by Ayn Rand.

If you are new to Ayn Rand and would like to discover more about her "philosophy for living on earth", I recommend you read her two great novels, Atlas Shrugged and The Fountainhead. If you enjoy her novels, I recommend her essays Man’s Rights, and The Nature of Government. The Ayn Rand Institute and the Ayn Rand Center for Individual Rights provide relevant information and commentary.

Following, in an order of my choosing, are the posts for this Objectivist Round Up.

Kelly Elmore presents Tennyson's "Ulysses" posted at Reepicheep's Coracle, saying, "Objectivists all seem to really love this poem. It has been read in OCON courses by Lisa Van Damme and Leonard Peikoff. I used it in my class at Mini-Con. It is even tattooed onto one Objectivist I know. In this post, I read the poem and give some background to help you better understand it."

[Editors note: hat tip to anyone who gets Tennyson tattooed on his body! Must be one cool dude.]

Paul Hsieh presents Hsieh AT OpEd: The Real Problem Is Not The Mosque But The Nukes posted at NoodleFood, saying, "I had two OpEds published this week! This one was on the NYC Mosque, at American Thinker."

Paul Hsieh presents Hsieh PJM OpEd: "Transparency For Me, But Not For Thee" posted at NoodleFood, saying, "This OpEd was on the relationship between "transparency" and limited government, at PajamasMedia. (It also got Instapundited!)"

Doug Reich presents "The Beatings Will Continue Until Morale Improves" posted at The Rational Capitalist, saying, "Some commentary on recent Fed actions and its attempt to cure the devastation caused by easy money with...easy money."

Doug Reich presents Jefferson, Voltaire, and Turgot posted at The Rational Artist, saying, "Solving the mystery of a Houdon sculpture at Jefferson's Monticello"

Stephen Bourque presents Regulation Begets More Regulation posted at One Reality, saying, "What does the government do when it causes a crisis? It adds more government."

Rachel Miner presents Anxiety, Angst, that Internal Ahhhh Response posted at The Playful Spirit, saying, "I've been contemplating childhood anxiety after comments made by son's counselor. I love her approach to helping him work out feelings around social issues and that she's a safe haven without being in an authority position (if he's grappling with something where a mentor that has both experience raising a kid on the spectrum and helping kids process smoothly is desired). Growing up involves learning new skills and is going to provoke anxiety as there is so much that is unknown. I wonder how much anxiety is normal and what methods others have tired to help their children."

David C Lewis, RFA presents Life Settlements: How Government Made Investing In The Death Of Other People A Profitable Business posted at A Revolution In Financial Planning, saying, "Today, the life settlement business is booming. Investors are able to profit off of other people's deaths. And, this investment opportunity was created, in large part, because some politicians in Washington D.C. thought that using life insurance as an investment was wrong. How ironic."

Round-up Intermission.

I’m listening to this song as I put together the Round up and I can’t get it out of my head. So I’m sharing it with you.

And now back to our Objectivisty goodness:

Rory presents In which Rory takes a moral perspective on the practical posted at Mind To Matter, saying, "My protracted study of Aristotle's ethics, for the sake of a 4000 word essay due in two months on the nature of virtue, has led to some very interesting thoughts. Here is one of them."

Diana Hsieh presents Rationally Selfish Q&A #003 posted at NoodleFood, saying, "I answer the question, 'When the mind insists on wandering, what are some good ways to help it settle down and focus?'"

Ari Armstrong presents Why Sam Alexander is Wrong on 'Personhood' posted at Free Colorado, saying, "The "continuum" argument fails to establish a zygote is a person."

Beth Haynes presents Social Justice and Medical Ethics posted at Black Ribbon Project, saying, "The AMA is actively working in conjunction with Association of American Medical Colleges to inculcate young physicians with the ethics of "social justice." "Social justice" is a euphemism for economic egalitarianism--and since people do not naturally come by equal wealth, "social justice" requires taking from some to give to others. This means the basic tenet of Marxist socialism is being pushed as the new medical code of ethics."

David C Lewis, RFA presents Dear Dave: I Hate Life Insurance: Life insurance | Precious Metals | Retirement Plans | Financial Planning | Investing | Saving Money posted at A Revolution In Financial Planning, saying, "Today's hate mail comes from a blog commenter who writes in: "Dear Dave, I hate cash value life insurance". I respond to the idea that life insurance companies are "evil & deceptive" in their policy designs--*sigh*, here we go again..."

Kelly Elmore presents Child Friendly without being Child Centered posted at Reepicheep's Coracle, saying, "This post contains my observations about a singing group's great attitude about kids, making them a part of the activity without making them the center of the activity. Beware, child-haters and parents who don't make their kids behave in public!"

Edward Cline presents Towering Babble Over Cordoba House posted at The Rule of Reason, saying, "I do not think Charles Krauthammer saw it coming, but in a rare alignment of political planets, he agreed with President Barack Obama by opposing the planned site of the Ground Zero mosque in lower Manhattan for the same reason that Obama endorsed it. Krauthammer claims that Ground Zero is “sacred” and that no mosque should be built on or near it. Obama, on the other hand, claims that it is the right of Muslims to build a mosque on private property as an instance of “religious freedom,” which one guess he regards of “sacred,” as well. One shakes one’s head over Krauthammer’s confusion, and is tempted to laugh at Obama’s citation of “private property,” an institution he is devoted to abolishing."

Jeff Montgomery presents Belford/Oxford Run posted at Fun With Gravity, saying, "I finally made it to the top of Mount Oxford after three tries. With photos."

Peter Cresswell presents Off the ‘Spirit Level’ [update 4] posted at Not PC, saying, "The authors of British book 'The Spirit Level' have a political agenda of radical egalitarianism that's got the world's politicians talking. This is a short post pointing to intellectual ammunition to shoot it down."

Rational Jenn presents Recycling posted at Rational Jenn, saying, "How much do I love the Amelia Peabody books? Lots and lots and lots. And I think you'll enjoy them, too. :)"

Gene Palmisano presents Reality Transcends Racism « The Metaphysical Lunch posted at The Metaphysical Lunch, saying, "Stop the Nonsense."

Sean Saulsbury presents Barcode Hero Checks In posted at SeanCast.com, saying, "A review of the new iPhone app, Barcode Hero."

Harsha Vardhan presents Value of Indian Rupee and the role of RBI. posted at Harsha blogs!, saying, "This post analyzes the role of RBI(similar to the Federal Reserve in the US) with respect to the value of the Indian rupee and how it actually destroys rather than promoting the Indian rupee."

That concludes this edition. Submit your blog article to the next edition of objectivist round up using our carnival submission form. Past posts and future hosts can be found on our blog carnival index page.

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Saturday, July 10, 2010

Upon the Retirement of Dr. Leonard Peikoff

Today at his final lecture of OCON 2010, Dr. Leonard Peikoff announced his formal retirement from philosophical work. There will be no more books, lectures, courses, or long treatises from him. He will continue to issue podcast episodes as he indicated that this work is a great enjoyment to him as a way to deal with the practical day to day application of philosophy to everyday problems. In essence he enjoys being the Dr. Laura of Objectivism.


He received a standing ovation that lasted several minutes upon completion of his lecture, and I suspect that many others in the room were as emotional as I was becoming. I have only seen Dr. Peikoff twice, and I have never spoken to him, but that really is unimportant to me. In the mid-90’s when I was the only Objectivist in a small town in Michigan, and when I thought we were so few that I might never meet another one, it was his voice, and the knowledge he imparted to me through his courses that kept me motivated and kept me going. The Art of Thinking, Introduction to Logic, The Principles of Grammer, Introduction to Objectivism, Understanding Objectivism, Eight Great Plays; it was his confident voice, imparting rational ideas that was in inspiration.


In my course on poetry this week with Lisa Van Damme, we studied what is already one of my favorite poems. Its theme seems appropriate to today and so I post a few excerpts from it, in honor of a man whose work, next to Rand’s, changed my life, and who helped me take an abstract philosophy out of the pages of the literature I loved and craft it into a practical method of living my own life.


Thank you, Dr. Peikoff.




from Ulyssess – Alfred Lord Tennyson




I am become a name;
For always roaming with a hungry heart
Much have I seen and known; cities of men
And manners, climates, councils, governments,
Myself not least, but honoured of them all;
And drunk delight of battle with my peers,
Far on the ringing plains of windy Troy
3.
I am a part of all that I have met;
Yet all experience is an arch wherethrough
Gleams that untravelled world, whose margin fades
For ever and for ever when I move.
How dull it is to pause, to make an end,
To rust unburnished, not to shine in use!
As though to breathe were life. Life piled on life
Were all too little, and of one to me
Little remains: but every hour is saved
From that eternal silence, something more,
A bringer of new things; and vile it were
For some three suns to store and hoard myself,
And this grey spirit yearning in desire
To follow knowledge like a sinking star,
Beyond the utmost bound of human thought.


Come, my friends,
'Tis not too late to seek a newer world.
Push off, and sitting well in order smite
The sounding furrows; for my purpose holds
To sail beyond the sunset, and the baths
Of all the western stars, until I die.
It may be that the gulfs will wash us down:
It may be we shall touch the Happy Isles
4,
And see the great Achilles
5, whom we knew
Though much is taken, much abides; and though
We are not now that strength which in old days
Moved earth and heaven; that which we are, we are;
One equal temper of heroic hearts,
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.

Wednesday, July 07, 2010

OCON Update #2

It’s Wednesday morning and Session 2 has started at OCON. I’ve got a few minutes before the General Session starts and I thought I’d dash off an update.

Session 2 finished strong. It seems that one or two of the lectures in each class for me contain the “ah-ha” points, and the lecturers are so good at essentializing their analysis that when those moments of discovery come, they are very forceful. You’ll many times exit a class, talk amongst the participants afterward and they all agree that a particular lecture was very impactful.  The energy around those lectures is palpable.

David Lewis finished off his course on Ancient Athens in 5 B.C. by looking at the intellectual factions within Athens, and the aggressive nature of the Athenian democracy which ultimately led to its downfall. Lewis is a marvelous lecturer with his dry wit, and a real excitement and passion for the power of history to inform us.

Eric Daniels finished off his course on the Morality of Trade with another such lecture, comparing modern consequentialists theorists with Rand ethical basis, showing how a consequentialist view (trade is good because it results in the greatest good, or more efficient outcomes) necessarily leads to statism because it is unable to defend itself against any empirical argument. He then delved into Rand’s theory of trade, rooted in her objective theory of value, and ultimately man’s rational nature. Rand’s approach to a moral defense of capitalism is unique in that it focuses on the requirements of the process of trade, rather than attempting to justify trade based upon its outcomes. Yes it is true that capitalism may be the system that works the best, but that is not the fundamental basis to defend it.

Leonard Peikoff continues with his series of Lectures on his DIM Hypothesis, that the fundamental trends in Western history can be looked at and determined by the way in which each culture viewed the nature of human knowledge. After two lectures completing his survey of ancient cultures, his last lecture launched into a fascinating discussion of the factors by which cultures shift from one mode of action to another. This lecture was incredibly dense and action packed as he attempted to survey all six major historical eras and review the change both coming into and out of each one. I was typing furiously the whole time. He’ll continue in his last lectures by looking at our society today and teasing out issues and factors that one needs to consider based upon this hypothesis.

Beyond that, the conference has been full of social activities, catching up with old friends, and making new ones. I also had great conversations with Lin Zinser and Keith Lockitch. Lin helped me understand some of her plans for the Ayn Rand Center for Individual Rights, and also differentiated ARC from ARI’s activities. Keith and I discussed our common interest in environmentalism, and in addition to helping me with some writing I’m working on, he also put me in touch with a few conference attendees who also have an interest in chemistry, the chemical industry and environmentalism. Hopefully those networks turn into a small nucleus of expertise in these areas.

After a spa day at the pool yesterday which included some decadent lounging and a massage, I am ready for Session 2!

Saturday, July 03, 2010

OCON Update

OCON is off to a roaring start this year!

I’ve got a little time before the next lecture; I’m lounging by the pool as a hot desert wind seeps across the Red Rock resort in Las Vegas. The venue this year is one of the best I’ve seen for an OCON yet.

Yesterday consisted of the opening banquet, and general catching up with old friends. Each year I come, the handshakes and hugs become more numerous, stronger, and the excitement of seeing old friends wells up greater. So many this year… OAC classmates, fellow Obloggers, and friends I’ve made over the years of interaction with Objectivists online; from California to Colorado, NYC to Michigan. OCON is as much about the social as the intellectual.

My first session coruse schedule is a little lighter than in previous years (to make room for, well, lounging at the pool…) Thought not planned, it seems that I’m opening with a focus on the classical period.

John Lewis Ancient’s course this year covers Athens in the 5th century B.C. This is the zenith of Athenian society and saw the establishment of Athenian democracy and of the advent of philosophers such as Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle. And of course you can’t ask for a better lecturer than John Lewis, which is energy and dry wit.

The general sessions are dominated by Leonard Peikoff’s second course series on his forthcoming book on the DIM hypothesis, his hypothesis that western society can be viewed in terms of it’s approach to human knowledge, and from this one can even begin to make predictive conclusions for the progression of societies. His focus this week will be on looking at early societies from the Greeks through the Medieval period through this lens.

David Harriman gave a great general session lecture on the inductive method in scientific discovery, looking at science’s inability to characterize and articulate the essence of it’s epistomological method, and it’s suffering as a result of this inability. He then focuses on the effect of Rand’s seminal theory of concepts on the ability to accurately characterize the scientific process, and what this means for the future of scientific education. This is the focus of his recently released book, The Logical Leap: Induction in Physics, which represents collaborative work between him and philosopher Leonard Peikoff. I’m excited to read the book, and will be ordering it soon!

Finally, Eric Daniels, in his usual witty style opened up his course on the Moraltiiy of Trade, examining this fundamental aspect of capitalism, and surveying historical views of trade. Today it was the Ancient’s characterization of trade. His intent is to look at various common objections to trade itself given by both opponents and defenders of capitalism.

Tonight’s lecture is on the state of the Ayn Rand Institute, offering up an enthusiastic look at the progress the Institute has made in changing the culture over the past year. Afterward, a cocktail party with OActivists.

Couple of notes. The Twitter hashtag #OCON is hot. Numerous attendees are tweeting and you can get great updates by the minute. The netbook is working wonderfully, and I’ve almost gone entirely paperless this year.

I also wanted to give a shout out to my friends in Atlanta who have put together a budget version of OCON, called MiniCon, put on by the Atlanta Objectivist Society. As always there are so many Objectivists who I miss seeing each year. Here’s to you. Hope to see you at a future conference, and I hope that the various updates keep you tied in and make you feel like you were here, as much as we wish you actually were.

All for now; onto the next event1

Monday, June 28, 2010

Convergence vs. Format vs. Channel – Why the iPad has not yet Won my Heart

I am in the throes of a continuing dilemma: to iPad or not to iPad. The Apple legions would tell you my agonizing is futile, that Apple will dominate the “netbook/bookreader” space the way it’s dominated the “mp3/mobile phone” space. I am not yet convinced, and here’s why.

Format

There is certainly room in the market for a portable device with a larger screen format. The larger format lets you interact with richer information sources and given a robust input mechanism such as a keyboard, it let’s you richly tie your own information to the information you interact with. This is compared with the smaller handheld platform which in many ways limits the depth of information that can be dealt with. Think of blogging vs. texting; think of the difference in web surfing on a phone vs. a laptop; or reading a book on a Kindle vs. a phone. And the fact is that the converse is also true. No one is going to be holding a iPad up to their ear to take a phone call, nor sticking the iPad in their pocket to listen to tunes on the school bus.

The question for me then become what set of features will something of this format converge upon, and what sort of business model captures value from that? The iPad is not and will not simply be a larger iPod. Users who choose it will have unique requirements and the types of information one interacts with may not be open to the same business models that information sources do on the iPod. Internet, email for all practical purposes are free. Music and cellular service were not.

Media Anchors the iPod

The exception to the media richness rule for handhelds is media, music and voice. One can store and retrieve this sort of content easily from a handheld device. The interaction with this type of content then is less about codifying knowledge but by instant retrieval in a contextually relevant situation. One interacts with their world by bringing their music into it, accessing it instantaneously according to the immediate desires and needs.

Music anchors the iPod in more ways than usage patterns. Apple’s business model is based upon it. Let’s be clear about it. Apple is not just a purveyor of iPod’s. Apple is a media store. Apple has a phenomenal market cap, not because it sells iPods, but because it sells the music that you put on the iPod. Apple has become the dominant channel for media. Think of the mall CD store around only 10 years ago. They are all but extinct.

So the logical question is: what will anchor the iPad? Is there a ongoing revenue stream that Apple can take over that will be of the equivalent of music for the iPod? Apple thinks its written media. Make no mistake about it. Music is to the iPod what books, magazines, and newspapers are to the iPad. If Apple cannot dominate more complex textual media the way it dominated music its business model will be significantly diminished.

It’s unclear to me yet that the stickiness of music for the iPod will necessarily translate to the iPad and text content. There are several reasons for this.

Amazon and Google

First, much of the textual media we access is already free. Internet, blogs, etc. All one needs here is simply access to the internet. And while the iPad may be a better platform for accessing the information, much in the same way that you can contextually access music on the iPod, without a viable keyboard, you’re ability to manipulate and create your own such content limits your ability to interact with the media in the additional dimension that this expanded format would allow.

Apple claims it’s reinvented how one interacts with such basic programs as email or calendaring. This may be the case, but let’s recall that Google dominates “the cloud.” How long before Google puts similar features onto it’s already popular versions of mail, calendaring, and documents, and before netbooks with touchscreens allow Google to make use of similar looks and feels, much like it’s Android platform now snipes at the iPhone platform.

And what about books and magazines, the closest analogue to it’s iTunes store? The problem here is that electronic channels are already well established. Unlike the burgeoning electronic music industry which Apple helped create and solidify in the midst of it’s early chaotic beginnings, we’ve been buying books online since the beginning of the internet. Have they been e-books? No. but I counter that this is not what matters. Once you’re selling books electronically, it is really a small step to selling electronic books. Amazon and Barnes and Noble already are established as online sellers of books. They have power with book publishers. Apple is not the pioneer in a new channel, but rather a newcomer to already established set of channel relationships. Don’t underestimate that power. Apple’s early domination of the e-music channel allowed it to command price premiums and gave it power to compete on price at the right time. It used proprietary standards only until it’s iTunes dominance was so well established that reversing it’s position on standards actually served to buttress it’s already entrenched position. Amazon [and Barnes & Noble] commands that sort of position with book publishers now and they are well established “clicks and mortar” players.

The Convergence Conundrum

I’ve never owned an iPod, but I love the platform. I’ve decided that once my current mp3 player (an iRivier H10 I bought almost 6 years ago) dies (and contrary to jokes about all things Windows-based, it continues to be rock solid performer – much to my chagrin) that I’ll replace it with an iTouch (no iPhone; my job supplies my cell, iPhones will never be enterprise standards, and I don’t need more small gadgets.) Here’s the problem. Once I have a device that runs the Apple apps platform, why would I need two? Wouldn’t I buy the device that best meets the needs of only those incremental things that I still lack?

This is part of the issue. It’s easy to see how the integration of phone, music, and small packet internet integrate well into one package, i.e. how they converge. But once we establish the viability of a separate device, the additional advantage of convergence becomes less sure. This is what Amazon is betting on. It’s what Google is betting on.  There are 3 points of convergence that are already established and it is unclear which will actually win. Google owns the convergence of the cloud. Amazon owns the convergence around the ebook channel. Apple wants to own the convergence of the device.

My Bet

My bet here is that the channel and hence Amazon will win. Amazon wants you to buy books through their bookstore but use them on any device you want, including their popular Kindle reader, and including the iPod/iPad platform. Apple wants you to buy books and only use them on their platforms, hoping its platform is sticky enough to convert you. Amazon already does significant volume and reaps significant profits from its books sales and so has price advantage. Neither will advocate open standards until one wins out.

My bet is that the platform will not establish the same sort of stickiness that it did in the case of the iPod, because Apple is not starting from the same sort of position and in an industry with the same sort of immaturity as the e-music industry.

Here’s where the competition will come from.

Amazon will continue to sell books for the best pricing. Publishers won’t like it, but then neither did music distributors when Apple did it. Until people figure out exactly how e-books are best read (small devices, backlit LCD, or EPaper) Amazon’s platform agnostic strategy seems better to me. Amazon has just dropped it’s price on the 2nd gen Kindles to $198, and I predict that Apple will eventually be forced to remove the Kindle apps from it’s app store. Google will develop and proliferate next gen operating systems, enabling netbook manufacturers who cannot compete with Apple’s resources to establish iPad-competitive platforms on their machines (think Android). Next gen netbooks with touch screens and these updated operating systems will come out faster than expected. And at the prices that manufacturers will be willing to charge under Apple’s premium pricing, they will compete.

To be sure, Apple has it’s brand, and it’s legions of loyal (dare I say rabid) users, and they will certainly get spill-over sales from this, although for reasons I’ve mentioned, and because lots fewer people read books than listen to music, it’s difficult to say how that will play out. They key will be if Apple and it’s app developers can develop apps that make use of the iPad’s unique format for as of yet un-thought-of uses and if they can do this faster than the entrenched competitors can refine their particular points of advantage.

As for me, Amazon just released an update to its Kindle for PC software to add the features I needed that were missing (screen color changes to adapt LCD screens for more comfortable reading, annotation capability, and support for screen rotation). My netbook is now the e-book reader I need, and short of the Kindle’s e-paper, perfectly adequate, especially given it’s ~$250 price tag. Given Amazon’s still unbeatable e-book pricing, I’ll be buying books from their store, and unless Apple pulls the Kindle apps, I’ll still have the option of switching to an iPad should the platform play out differently.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Now that’s Funny

For those of you who read my last post on the BP “Coffee” Spill, and might have thought I should just loosen up and laugh a little, here’s a vid that is the proper philosophical counter point to the Coffee Spill. Hugh Laurie offers us his solution for the oil spill and… well, for whatever else might need fixing. The bufoonery is now in the right place. And I think it’s freakin’ hilarious!

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

BP and Coffee or “Why I’m Not Laughing”

This video clip has been circulating the interwebs appearing on various friends Twitter feeds and Facebook pages. Even a few Objectivists friends have linked to it approvingly. I admit I chuckled the first time I watched it as well. I’ll ask you to watch it and see what your first response is.

The fact is that I no longer find it funny. In fact, I find it an insulting smear. I admit to being seduced by it’s premises, and after thinking about why it was funny to me I realized I accepted a premise hidden in its humor which is absolutely false. The answer lies in the answer to a simple question. Why is it funny? For me analyzing automated emotional responses is interesting, many times because I find unexpected implicit judgment embedded in them.

The video portrays BP executives spilling coffee and then attempting to clean up that spill unsuccessfully. Obviously a metaphor for BP’s handling of the recent Gulf spill caused by the explosion and sinking of the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig. The executives try all sorts of bizarre and overly complex solutions to mitigate the spill, ultimately ending in a failed attempt under the direction of movie actor Kevin Costner.

The essence of the humor here is the executives myriad of failed attempts in the face our own knowledge of a remedy that is simple, commonly known by all, and virtually guaranteed of success. One could simply use a paper towel to wipe up the spill (an irony made more concrete by the use of such a paper towel, not for its obvious use, but instead to draw a schematic for another overly complex failed mechanical attempt). The video is funny because the executives are portrayed as buffoons. If we laugh at those things we find insignificant, then it is the executives status as incompetent clowns that forms the basis of the humor in this case.

But does this metaphor actually hold? A simple question reveals the problem with the metaphor. In the case of the Deepwater Horizon incident, what is represented by the metaphorical paper towel? What is the solution to this incident that is obvious even to you, simple, and has an almost 100% guarantee of success? Do you know? You must know if the metaphor is to hold. But you don’t. I’m certainly not a petroleum engineer or deepwater geologist. I don’t know what it is. This is because the metaphor doesn’t hold, not in the least.

Drilling for oil a mile beneath the ocean’s surface is a complex technological marvel requiring teams of men with highly specialized knowledge in order to succeed. Staunching a gusher such as the Deepwater Horizon leak is an equally amazing marvel requiring the same men, with the same types of knowledge. Consider that there are only about a hundred deep water drilling rigs in the world capable of drilling oil wells at this type of depth. There is no “paper towel” in this case. Capping this well is one of the most complex engineering feats and only a few men have the requisite knowledge to even be able to attempt it.

And yet it is these men that the video attempts to smear. The video trivializes the nature of the problem before us and belittles the very heroes who will be responsible for saving the day.

And aren’t these men responsible for the spill? As someone who works in the petrochemical industry, it is not at all clear that this is the case. Determining negligence in cases of complex technical problems is a complex issue. The fact that the spill exists does not in any way imply that there was negligent behavior. And it is my experience that the largest companies are usually safer and more conservative in their practices than smaller companies. Certainly if BP is negligent, then it bears liability in the spill; however, this is far from proven.

But what do these responses, our implicit belief in the “paper towel” solution, our seeming justified impatience with BP and a desire to believe them incompetent and negligent, all have in common? In his blog post “Plug the Damn Hole!” Tom Bowden highlights the fundamental that I believe underlies this response: ignoring the causal. When one ignores the actual nature of a thing and its consequences, then all one is left with is whim. We wish the gusher were plugged so we become impatient, yet ignore what it takes to get such events under control. Our impatience is unwarranted. It’s based on whim. We believe the spill should be pluggable immediately as if one was wiping up a coffee spill, so all the efforts and machinations of the men working on solving this problem must signify incompetence. Our judgment of incompetence in unwarranted. It’s based upon whim. Our political leaders issue directives, haul oil company CEO’s before committees and call their responses inadequate only in hindsight and yet they will not change what it will take to solve this problem. Their fury is unwarranted. It’s based upon whim.

The fact is that the petrochemical industry is one of the safest industries on the planet. I am safer working in the average modern petrochemical plant today than I am living in my home and driving to work. If it’s true that oil companies have little experience plugging leaks like this it is ironically because such incidents are rare. It is because of the competence of men like these that we don’t have leaks like this everyday. And so their inexperience is a sign of their extreme competence, and the fact that we’re operating at the edge of our knowledge.

This problem will take time to solve specifically because it is a daunting problem to solve. The limited resource here is not money. It is specifically the brainpower to work on this problem. That brainpower is limited. There are relatively few men with the experience and knowledge to contribute to the solution of the problem. The minds who build the equipment used are rare, because the equipment and operations are so complex that only a few men have the knowledge to build them. But these men are not created overnight. It takes time and investment. What fuels that time and investment? Profits. Oil company profits to be exact.

In my post recounting my experience with cancer I said I wanted as much profit going to pharmaceutical companies as possible so that they could put as many scientists as possible working on cures for cancer. I said that there was an urgency fueling this desire since my life was at stake should my cancer recur. Today we’re faced with a similar urgency. I hope the leak gets staunched as soon as possible, and for that reason I advocate laissez faire capitalism. Because profits ensure that we don't have shortages of brainpower when we need it.

Some on the right are calling this crisis Obama’s “Katrina,” saying that his inaction will be his example of poor leadership. I don’t think it is. The perpetuation of the spill and his complicity in it will only fuel his ability to advance his environmental agenda. It will give him the momentum to make his deepwater drilling moratorium a complete ban and to further regulate. It will allow him to get cap and trade legislation enacted, thereby crippling US industry. In the words of Thomas Friedman, New York Times columnist and environmentalist, “A crisis is a terrible thing to waste.” [as a tool to influence policy]

What could Obama be doing, or what could be doing to put in place conditions that would help resolve this and future situations? Here are a few things among many options:

  1. Advocate the lifting of bans on drilling in lower risk areas like ANWR and shallow water continental shelf. Today we are drilling in high risk areas because cheaper less risky sources of oil have been deemed off limits. Technologically, this is the equivalent of banning farming in the Midwest and relegating farmers to ply their trade on the moon.
  2. Accept offers of aid in the form of material and most importantly, “mindpower” from other countries and other companies. Up to now the US has politely declined such aid.
  3. There is one proven technique that has been used to rapidly stop deep water oil leaks, successful in 4 out of 5 attempts by Russia in the 1960’s and 1970’s, quickly and permanently stopping those oil leaks. That technique is a controlled nuclear detonation, a “nuclear option.”  The US government can authorize the use of such an option, if the conditions of this well favor its use.

Friday, April 30, 2010

How I’ve Changed – Part III Philosophy

[Author’s note: This is the third in a series of musings on a few of the fundamental ways I’ve matured over the last two decades. Part I of this series is here. Specifically I chose to focus on three aspects:

  1. The use of philosophy as a practical science for determining how to live one’s life, and more specifically a framework to understand what role value plays in one’s life. i.e. this is the science of ethics, what should man value, and how should he go about pursuing those values.
  2. The development of a useful framework to be able to deal with and integrate my emotional responses.
  3. The development of a useful framework to characterize and deal with my relations with other people.

This post will focus on the third, philosophy.

Ideas matter…

That’s the short answer of course. But it’s also the bottom line, and it’s a more profound statement than I realized twenty years ago. I’ve always been the intellectual sort, but in many ways I’ve only fully internalized and operationalized that principle in the last few years. So what does it mean? What does it really mean?

The first question one might be tempted to ask is “why?” “Why do ideas matter?” The answer is simple, but not always obvious: ideas are the way that you, as a human being, figure out how to make your way in the world. You cannot escape your need, nor your use of them.

Consider your average day. You get up and go to work. Consider how you arrived in that state. How did you choose your education? On what basis did you choose your career? On what basis should one choose a career? What are your career plans? Are you achieving them?Do you like your job? Should you like your job?

You go out to lunch. What do you eat? Is it good for you? Do you enjoy it? Who do you eat with? Do you pay for your meal? Should you pay for your meal? Why?

And finally you go home. Do you have a family? Do you love your wife or husband? Why? How should you treat someone you love? What do you do in your free time? Why? Is it rewarding? Are you happy?

To make these choices; to think about and act on your life on any basis that is more than simply what do I feel like doing now, you have to use ideas.

Maybe you’re a little skeptical of this statement. You think to yourself, “yeah, but what if I don’t actually live by ideas? What if I simply do what I feel and don’t think about it?” Putting aside that most people who say this don’t actually follow that principle consistently, consider the fact that unlike an animal you choose this course of action. And your basis for choosing it is the principle that people shouldn’t live by ideas. Except that this is itself an idea.

Philosophy then is simply the science that provides a framework for how one uses ideas in their life. It is a guide for living. Philosophy doesn’t answer every single question about life or the world around us; however, it does answer the fundamental ones. By fundamental I mean the ones upon which all the rest of knowledge is built. Philosophy properly conceived answers a few fundamental questions:

  1. What is the nature of the world around us?
  2. Can I know this world, and if so by what methods do I know that I understand it?
  3. What should I do as a result of this knowledge? What goals should I pursue, and how?
  4. How should I treat other people in my dealings with them?

I have trouble thinking of a more profoundly practical set of questions, ones that in various ways you and I have to consider daily. In fact, most religions make attempts, however primitive, to answer these questions, because the questions themselves are ones that we all seek answers to. We do this, because we need the answers, i.e. the ideas they provide, in order to live.

Of course philosophy is a little circular in a way. My statement above that ideas matter is itself a philosophical statement from a particular viewpoint. It is a particular answer to one of the questions above, “by what methods does one know reality?” This seeming circularity makes some people prone to claim that ideas are all relative, i.e. that the questions above can never be answered definitively, but that we can only express our opinions about them. Others claim that there are absolute answers to them, but ones that we can’t develop ourselves. Rather have to have given to us by God or by society.

So rather than get stuck as one is wont to do having to start explaining every single idea within a philosophy, I want to highlight a few ideas about the importance and pervasiveness of the need for philosophy, as such. In other words, what are some of the ways that one understands the concept that ideas do matter.

Ideas Matter - All the Time

The fundamental of life is choice; the choices we make, large and small. We choose a career. We choose to have a family. We choose where to live, and what to eat. Unlike animals who act instinctively, humans choose almost everything they act toward. it is the conceptual content of our minds, i.e. our ideas, which inform our choices. Our fundamental option then as regards our choices is to make them, informed by consciously held ideas or uninformed by such ideas. We can make choices because of a reason or we can make choices “just because.” One of the key concepts philosophy has added to my life is the realization that our ideas should be consciously, deliberately brought to bear on all of our choices.

Now one might argue that there are certain choices that don’t require ideas. Do I really need a reason to choose between vanilla or chocolate ice cream for dessert tonight? Can’t I choose it “just because?” In a sense this choice is quite arbitrary and philosophy certainly won’t tell you that vanilla or chocolate is the “right” choice. However, on a completely different level, there is an idea that is crucial to this choice; namely the idea that certain choices are arbitrary and certain choices are not. That is, you have to have a reason to put the choice of ice cream flavor into the class of arbitrary choices. Although we can probably think of many sorts of these choices, there are very few truly arbitrary choices. (I chose chocolate, by the way.)

Nor am I suggesting that one must have fully formed ideas before acting. Thinking, experience, reasoning all take energy and resources, and we have a limited amount of time to deal with the choices in our lives. This morning I had to make a decision about the price I was going to charge a customer on a particular product that I have marketing responsibility for. Ideally, one could imagine that I make this choice with complete knowledge. What are the customer’s other options? How unique is my product compared to those options? Does my customer value certain features of my product? What application will he uses this product for? What is his financial state? Practically, however, I don’t have all of this information, and I cannot expend the effort to obtain all of it before I run out of time and must make my decision. This happens to us on a daily basis. However it is not being frivolous with ideas to go ahead and make this decision.

So what would taking ideas seriously all the time imply about partially informed decisions?First, one ought to consider their choices in terms of relative importance, and expend more effort to inform the more important ideas. It is treating ideas frivolously to spend days and days researching the choice of a make of television to buy, but then spend a few minutes to make a career choice. Second, when making partially informed choices, one must recognize the fact that it is a partially informed choice and this means that one is taking risk. It is treating ideas seriously to revisit partially informed choices as more information becomes available and evaluate them again.

Ideas are Interrelated

What do sex, an iPhone and political theory have in common? Do they have anything in common? Do you know someone who is terribly brilliant in a particular field of endeavor in their lives, and a complete idiot in another? Why is the phenomena of a “Renaissance Man” particular to, well, ages like the Renaissance? Like the first question, this set of questions might appear themselves to be very unrelated, but at their essence they are related by a crucial element, the idea that all ideas are interrelated.

What is meant by this statement? Our ideas are based on our descriptions of the world around us. And in the world around us things are related by the nature of the various entities that make it up. For instance, take the 3 items mentioned previously: sex, and iPhone, and U.S.foreign policy. While seemingly disparate, these things are related. How? One key aspect is that they are all products of men’s choices. As such, ideas relating to each can be informed by a common account of human nature. For instance if you think that man has free will this can and should influence your views of each of the above. A man is responsible for his sexual choices and they inform on his character. The innovative creations of entrepreneurs like Steve Jobs are seen as an inspirational accomplishment because of the force of will that they take. And finally, countries should be founded on the basis that men are able to govern themselves. If however you hold that man is a walking bag of water and chemicals and his free will is an illusion, you may hold that his sexual choices say nothing about him. The accomplishments of Steve Jobs are nothing special, and men’s desires, being randomly generated always pit them against each other and government’s role should be as parent to its population in order to control these conflicts. So because things may have commonality in reality, our ideas about them should be congruent.

To take ideas seriously then is to check your ideas against each other; to assure that where they interrelate, that they are compatible with each other. In fact, it is more than simply checking ideas against each other, but it means actively seeking out ideas from various fields and working to discover their interrelations. One cannot have a complete and error free account of human nature, for instance, without understanding philosophy, biology, psychology, economics, etc.

This is why, in eras where societies take ideas seriously, one finds the particular phenomena of the Renaissance Man. When one understands that fields of endeavor are all informed by information from other fields, one is motivated to study multiple fields and indeed the best men in a society are the ones who become knowledgeable in multiple fields of endeavor. The compartmentalized genius, the man who is an expert in one field while being ignorant in all others ignores the fact that ideas are interrelated.

How One Arrives at their Ideas is as Important as the Ideas Themselves

The truth of the ideas that drive your choices depends on how well the ideas correspond to reality. Man is not given truths; he must determine what is true and what it not. He must have a method for validating that he has formed his ideas properly and that they do in fact correspond to reality. The method one chooses is therefore as important as the conclusions one arrives at.

Let’s suppose that two persons are studying physics. One dutifully comes to class, takes notes, accepts what the professor says as truth without question. He goes through laboratory exercises by rote. The second on the other hand asks questions, attempts to understand how the ideas were arrived at originally. He integrates his observations of the world around him into those scientific ideas and sees the ideas as accurately describing his world. He uses labs to work through the basics of each principle he’s being taught.

At the end both may score well on exams, but what the first person can be said to have is hardly knowledge. Not having understood how conclusions were arrived at, he may be able to parrot the one’s he’s taught, but it’s dubious whether or not new conclusions he arrives at would be valid.

It is very possible that one may hold ideas that are true, but having arrived at them via invalid methods is as dangerous as operating with untrue ideas. Method speaks to your ability to develop new ideas of your own, to integrate new knowledge into your existing knowledge. Without it you’re stuck with what you have, and what you have may not even be that good.

This are some of perspectives I hold on the role that philosophy plays. With that perspective however, one can begin to answer basic questions about life: What is the good? What is virtue? What is the purpose of life? One simply need not take them as given, either by a higher power, nor by some social authority. Nor does one need think that the questions are unanswerable. One can develop clear, objective answers to questions like these. And when one does, they are able to have clear, consistent principles to guide their actions on a daily basis. And that is one of the most practical, valuable endeavors one can pursue. That clarity is refreshing. The confidence and ability to know that you’ve got a set of well developed principles for living, and that they work; well that’s enabling. It’s exhilarating.

And that has made all the difference since…

Monday, March 01, 2010

How I’ve Changed – Part II Emotions

In Part I of this series I introduced my musings on a few of the fundamental ways I’ve matured over the last two decades. Specifically I chose to focus on three aspects:

  1. The use of philosophy as a practical science for determining how to live one’s life, and more specifically a framework to understand what role value plays in one’s life. i.e. this is the science of ethics, what should man value, and how should he go about pursuing those values.
  2. The development of a useful framework to be able to deal with and integrate my emotional responses.
  3. The development of a useful framework to characterize and deal with my relations with other people.

I focused on personal relationships in Part I, and I’ll be focusing on integrating emotions in this post. Specifically, I want to discuss a framework from which to think about and work with emotional responses, and ultimately being able to harmonize emotional responses with our conscious values. Here are a few of the observations I made from the last post with regards to emotions:

  • I find today a far greater integration of my head and my heart, of my thoughts and emotions. This yields a feeling of peace or centeredness or balance.
  • I think my daily emotional responses today are far less mixed, or clouded and as a result are much more intense, pure and powerful. I describe this to people as living in “technicolor.”
  • I seem to be able to stop and live purely in the moment, savoring even small pleasures and joys fully without the immediate weight of that adult list of goals, and tasks, and worries. Again, this lends an incredible feeling of intensity in the moment. 
  • I don’t feel a nostalgia for a “simpler, easier” time in my life. The simplest, easiest, most joyful time in my life is right now.

Why might we be interested to think about this? The basic answer is the emotions have utility in leading our lives. They can be powerful motivators or demotivators to action. I’m sure you’ve all felt the surge of drive and motivation when something you’re doing also generates a positive emotional response. When choosing a career for instance, the popular bromide that you should so something that you’re passionate about reflects this. Emotions help us sustain and act upon our conscious decisions. Conversely, I’m sure you’ve all felt the lack of action or initiative when our emotional responses are negative toward the action. I had to work out this morning and my heart wasn’t in it, even though I know and want to be physically fit. Because emotions can be so powerful, it would benefit our lives greatly if we could find a way to harness their power and align them with the things we want to pursue.

Before delving into the ideas here I want to make a disclaimer. First of all, this will not be a post about psychology or psychological theory. My intent is not to provide the methods by which we analyze and modify our emotions, but rather to provide a framework for thinking about them that sets the stage for our approach to them. I have little familiarity with psychological sciences other than lay reading and small levels of experience with psychologists directly, and I don’t try to represent them. Nor is it any comment on psychotherapy or the use of medications in treating psychological conditions. All are valid practices in the right context

Emotions as automated, evaluative responses to sensory input

In order to articulate a framework for thinking about emotions, it is first necessary to say something about what emotions are. Simply stated, emotions are automated responses to sensory inputs. That is, subsequent to sensing something, our minds respond with some sort of processing of those sensory inputs, and this results in an emotional response. Unlike sensations such as pain and the automatic reflexes that might follow, there is some sort of processing that our minds perform in an intermediate step that results in an emotional response. By automated I mean that emotional responses typically operate faster than our conscious reasoning processes. It is not that we stop and think about something in order to realize how we feel about it, but that we usually feel something first and only subsequently might we know why. You’ll notice that I use the word automated rather than automatic. This is important and I’ll elaborate on the distinction shortly. What do I mean by evaluative? Emotions unlike other automated responses (such as reflexes), reflect some sort of judgment about something. They indicate an assessment of something as good or bad. A marathoner feels pain (a sensation) in his legs and responds with anxiety (an emotion) because he is too far from the finish line. Another also feels pain but responds with joy because he knows that he is near the finish line and pushing himself as hard as he can. While the sensation, pain, may be the same, emotional responses vary depending on the situation.

What’s interesting here is that normally we associate evaluation with conscious thinking, Yet emotions are evaluative in nature but not really products of conscious thinking. How do we to account for this observation? This for me comes in the explanation of how emotions come to be automated. Emotions come to be automated through experience. It is through repeated experience that emotional responses develop. However, experience by itself is insufficient to explain the evaluative nature of emotions. Rather it is our past experiences coupled with our past evaluations of those experiences that serves to automate our emotions. The first time our marathoner raced he may not have known what the early pain he felt would portend. It would be only after experiencing a disappointing performance(s) and realizing that the pain was an early indicator of this problem that he might feel anxiety at the first sign of pain. Now I’m not going to spend too much time developing this point as I want to get to the framework for dealing with it. Specifically I don’t want to get into the realm of early emotional development or how emotions develop from early ideas, only to acknowledge that there certainly times during development when the impact of experience can be much more critical to healthy emotional development and that the basic mechanism of automation has to in some way be genetic. However I don’t think that these observations take away from the basic idea which is that emotions are products of our past experiences and also our ideas and evaluations of those past experiences.

Emotions are not cognitive

Emotions do not automatically give us information about the world that can be taken as valid without conscious reasoning. In other words, emotions are not mechanisms for automatically knowing the truth. If our past evaluation of an experience was in error, then it is certainly possible that we have trained our emotions in error. If our marathoner does associate the early pain he feels with the resulting performance, he may subsequently respond to the pain ambivalently, when it really should concern him.

It is possible that if our previous evaluations of experiences were correct that emotional responses may yield correct evaluations of a situation; however, it is not necessarily so. It is also possible that while our previous evaluations of experiences were correct that the experience that is causing our emotional response now does not match our previous experiences. In other words it is possible to mistake the experience one is having now and respond with the wrong emotion. If our marathoner switches to running 5K’s he may not realize that the manner in which he experiences pain will be different, and he will mistake early pain as a sign of trouble.

Emotions as trainable

The fact that emotions are developed experientially provides us with a mechanism by which we can shape our emotional responses. Because we are beings of freewill, we can choose both the ideas we hold, and the experiences we undergo; these are the critical components of emotional development. That is, at a certain stage of maturity we can direct our emotional development.

Now, this does not in any way suggest that emotions are infinitely malleable or that directing them takes no effort or knowledge. To the contrary, emotions have a specific nature. They come to be through a specific mechanism. And as such, one cannot simply wish for them to be different. However the fact that they do have a specific nature provides us with the mechanism to direct their development. The fact that they are trainable affords us the opportunity to train them, and that is a powerful concept.

Note also that because emotions arise out of experiences in the context of ideas, neither is sufficient by itself to cause desired emotional development. It is insufficient to simply change one’s ideas and expect one’s emotions to automatically change to reflect those ideas.  In addition it is insufficient to simply throw oneself into new situations and hope that your emotions develop properly.

Moral Judgments of emotional responses as invalid

A very common response I have seen in myself and others is to make negative moral judgments about unwanted emotional responses. Because I feel a certain way, that must say something about me as a person. If I continue to desire chocolate cake after I’ve already pledged to a diet and weight loss, this can bring feelings of guilt simply for having this sort of emotional response. I may even question myself wondering “I know that’s not good for me; why do I still want it?” The fact of this response does not warrant a moral evaluation of the person. Emotions are automated responses, and moral evaluations apply to those things that are volitional. Just as one wouldn’t make a judgment about themselves for having a slow reflex, so one should refrain from taking emotional responses personally.

This is especially true of adolescents just becoming aware of their emotional natures or people who have recently changed fundamental ideas that they hold. Both are liable to feel emotionally out of control or disconnected from the ideas they hold. The proper perspective on this is to take emotional responses as they are, without moral judgment, and then set about to understand and craft them into a set of much more useful, harmonious responses.

Introspection as a key skill to aid emotional development

Suppose you were wandering in the desert and came upon an ancient, alien form of transportation, some sort of spaceship maybe. You found the control center and notice a set of controls and an instrument panel. How would you go about understanding the craft? A couple of obvious questions to ask are “What do the instruments tell me?” and “Are they in proper working order?” You might try operating the craft and seeing what controls resulted in certain actions, and which instruments responded to various actions. You might remove some access panels and examine how the instruments are wired to various parts of the craft.

The process is analogous when dealing with emotions. They are or can be effective instruments for the operation of our corporeal “craft.” However, we become aware of their existence and operation as already formed entities. Only then do we set about to understand their function, and where their function is not useful or helpful to rewire them so as to make them more useful.

One of the fundamental ways that we understand how our emotions are wired, and how they function is through the process of introspection. By introspection, I mean the focusing inward to understand what is causing your emotions. I mean an conscious active probing and seeking, as opposed to a passive “pondering” or reflecting. Active introspection about seeks to answer two questions: “What am I responding to?” and “What ideas led to the formation of this emotion?”. The second question might not seem so obvious at first, but if you buy the explanation above, that ideas held now or in the past are built into your emotional responses, then this has to be at the root of figuring out your emotional “wiring.” There are lots of ways to accomplish this step. I find journaling a good way of verbalizing feelings. Other methods include role playing, fantasizing, and replaying events or memories in your head. All are methods of experimenting with your feelings to find out what ideas they are connected to.

As a side note, cognitive psychology seems to be the psychological school that best reflects therapy based on these principles, i.e. that emotions can be understood, and bringing them to a conscious level of understanding allows you to then work on modifying your responses.

So that’s the basic framework. So much more to discuss, methods, contrasting perspectives, errors, etc. But the post is long enough. Ask a question and I’ll go there though.

Tuesday, January 05, 2010

2010 Goals

It is that time of year again; the time when I put together my objectives for 2010. Looking back at last year’s goals I am quite pleased with my accomplishments. Although I didn’t complete everything on last year’s list (most notably getting published, and titling Moxie) I am still happy with the way I ended the year. I experienced a significant unplanned life event in the form of my move to Philly and a new job, and my while I only competed in one duathlon this year, I shredded it, turning in a personal best after only 8 weeks of training to prepare.

This year’s goal list is a bit shorter. I have a set of professional goals, but I don’t list them here, and this is a pretty pivotal year for my career. So I expect that my priority will be there and my personal goals less so. However, there are still a few pretty aggressive goals here, and a few that excite me as well. Without further adieu.

  1. Fitness – compete in a road triathlon, an off-road tri/du and one marathon. While it may sound similar to last year’s goal, this goal implies that I’m going to improve my swimming, get my MTB riding to the point where I can race, and put some serious time into running. All new activities that I’ve not focused on before.
  2. Reading – Read 1 book per month for a total of 12. I had this goal from last year, but the reality it I only hit about 6 or 7. Maybe the choice to bite off Anna Karenina mid-year did me in.
  3. Writing – publish 1 TOS article. Another repeat, but this one is really important to me. I’m going to focus less on blogging this year, although I need to get Simply Capitalism back on its feet. Also I’m going to finish that short story I’ve been working on for the last year or so.
  4. Dmitri – try to bring Dmitri out to Philly at least 3 times during the year. My step son is back in Michigan and seeing him is important to me. This is a critical must do goal.

I have a few items in the new activity area.

  1. Get certified to charter a large sailboat. I’ve been sailing since I was a kid, and I’ve sailed on big boats as well, but never learned enough to charter sail. Since I’m not living near the ocean and sailing schools, this is the perfect opportunity to complete something I’ve always wanted to do. Of course this means that there is a charter vacation in my plans sometime next winter. Anyone want to join me for a week in the British Virgin Islands for a week aboard my boat?
  2. Learn to surf. Something else I’ve wanted to do. I used to windsurf extensively, and again living so close to the Jersey shore means that surfing is readily available.
  3. Become more competent at drawing.  Part of a longer term goal to eventually learn to do some painting, I want to get my drawing skills improved. Several places convenient in the city where I can do this.

That’s it. With my professional goals as well, this will keep me quite occupied for 2010. What are some of your goals?