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Archive for January, 2012

I’ll take it even a step further.  I believe poor folks, black and white, have been virtually brainwashed to hate each other.  Not only are they going to be successful if they band together, but America is dominated by financial subcultures now.  Poor folks go their whole lives fighting each other, while small groups of people, laughing all the way to the bank, carve up the whole big pie of money.  Man, you talk about divide and conquer.  You’ve got too many people not working together, believing race is their problem when poverty and bad schools are their problem, and before you know it, there’s a small group of people who have all the money.  As long as they keep the poor people divided, those poor people are never going to be able to get a decent-size piece of the pie.
  -–  Charles Barkley
From his book:  “Who’s Afraid Of A Large Black Man?
[We are the 99%!!  Can you hear us now?  —  KMAB]
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If you believe in yourself, that’s number one.  Second is you’ve got to be willing to work hard.  Nobody gives you anything; it doesn’t happen overnight.  You have to be willing to stay in the trenches and work hard.  And third is you’ve got to understand how to communicate effectively across all different levels of interaction.  You have to learn how to interpret people and understand what they want from you and what you can give to them.  And that goes into believing in yourself.  I don’t care if you’re going to sweep the streets; be the best street sweeper you can be.  If you go in there with that attitude, that I’m as good as the next guy, you may not end up being the richest guy in the world, you may not end up being the best ballplayer in the world, you may not end up being a senator from Illinois.  But you’re going to know in your mind that you are doing the best you can do based on your belief in yourself.
  —  Robert Johnson
Founder of Black Entertainment Television
Quoted in:  “Who’s Afraid Of A Large Black Man?“, written by Charles Barkley
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There is a saying in the martial arts: “When the student is ready, the teacher will appear.”  I believe the saying has a more general application to life and to continuous education.
A little while back I was reading Wired Magazine and stumbled upon an article titled: “Trials and Errors: Why Science Is Failing Us“.   (The article was written by Jonah Lehrer and appears in the January 2012 issue.)
I found the article to be fascinating in itself, but also because it ties together with some of the other ideas I’ve been reading about in sports, science and philosophy: namely, we want to achieve intimate knowledge (“Grok”) by breaking processes down into fundamental pieces.  In science research this is known as “reductionism”.  Anyway, Lehrer’s article seems very harmonic with some of the other things I’ve been reading, so I’m offering up an (extensive) excerpt here, instead of just a couple of sentences as a quote.  I highly recommend reading the entire article for more insight…
…Because scientists understood the individual steps of the cholesterol pathway at such a precise level, they assumed they also understood how it worked as a whole.
This assumption — that understanding a system’s constituent parts means we also understand the causes within the system — is not limited to the pharmaceutical industry or even to biology.  It defines modern science. In general, we believe that the so-called problem of causation can be cured by more information, by our ceaseless accumulation of facts.  Scientists refer to this process as reductionism.  By breaking down a process, we can see how everything fits together; the complex mystery is distilled into a list of ingredients.  And so the question of cholesterol — what is its relationship to heart disease? — becomes a predictable loop of proteins tweaking proteins, acronyms altering one another.  Modern medicine is particularly reliant on this approach.  Every year, nearly $100 billion is invested in biomedical research in the US, all of it aimed at teasing apart the invisible bits of the body.  We assume that these new details will finally reveal the causes of illness, pinning our maladies on small molecules and errant snippets of DNA.  Once we find the cause, of course, we can begin working on a cure.
The problem with this assumption, however, is that causes are a strange kind of knowledge.  This was first pointed out by David Hume, the 18th-century Scottish philosopher.  Hume realized that, although people talk about causes as if they are real facts — tangible things that can be discovered — they’re actually not at all factual.  Instead, Hume said, every cause is just a slippery story, a catchy conjecture, a “lively conception produced by habit.”  When an apple falls from a tree, the cause is obvious: gravity.  Hume’s skeptical insight was that we don’t see gravity — we see only an object tugged toward the earth.  We look at X and then at Y, and invent a story about what happened in between.  We can measure facts, but a cause is not a fact — it’s a fiction that helps us make sense of facts.
The truth is, our stories about causation are shadowed by all sorts of mental shortcuts.  Most of the time, these shortcuts work well enough.  They allow us to hit fastballs, discover the law of gravity, and design wondrous technologies.  However, when it comes to reasoning about complex systems — say, the human body — these shortcuts go from being slickly efficient to outright misleading.
There’s a fundamental mismatch between how the world works and how we think about the world.
The good news is that, in the centuries since Hume, scientists have mostly managed to work around this mismatch as they’ve continued to discover new cause-and-effect relationships at a blistering pace.  This success is largely a tribute to the power of statistical correlation, which has allowed researchers to pirouette around the problem of causation.  Though scientists constantly remind themselves that mere correlation is not causation, if a correlation is clear and consistent, then they typically assume a cause has been found—that there really is some invisible association between the measurements.
Researchers have developed an impressive system for testing these correlations.  For the most part, they rely on an abstract measure known as statistical significance, invented by English mathematician Ronald Fisher in the 1920s.  This test defines a “significant” result as any data point that would be produced by chance less than 5 percent of the time.  While a significant result is no guarantee of truth, it’s widely seen as an important indicator of good data, a clue that the correlation is not a coincidence.
But here’s the bad news: The reliance on correlations has entered an age of diminishing returns.  At least two major factors contribute to this trend.  First, all of the easy causes have been found, which means that scientists are now forced to search for ever-subtler correlations, mining that mountain of facts for the tiniest of associations.  Is that a new cause?  Or just a statistical mistake?  The line is getting finer; science is getting harder.   Second — and this is the biggy — searching for correlations is a terrible way of dealing with the primary subject of much modern research: those complex networks at the center of life.  While correlations help us track the relationship between independent measurements, such as the link between smoking and cancer, they are much less effective at making sense of systems in which the variables cannot be isolated.  Such situations require that we understand every interaction before we can reliably understand any of them.  Given the byzantine nature of biology, this can often be a daunting hurdle, requiring that researchers map not only the complete cholesterol pathway but also the ways in which it is plugged into other pathways.  (The neglect of these secondary and even tertiary interactions begins to explain the failure of torcetrapib, which had unintended effects on blood pressure.  It also helps explain the success of Lipitor, which seems to have a secondary effect of reducing inflammation.)  Unfortunately, we often shrug off this dizzying intricacy, searching instead for the simplest of correlations.  It’s the cognitive equivalent of bringing a knife to a gunfight.
David Hume referred to causality as “the cement of the universe.”  He was being ironic, since he knew that this so-called cement was a hallucination, a tale we tell ourselves to make sense of events and observations.  No matter how precisely we knew a given system, Hume realized, its underlying causes would always remain mysterious, shadowed by error bars and uncertainty.  Although the scientific process tries to makes sense of problems by isolating every variable — imagining a blood vessel, say, if HDL alone were raised — reality doesn’t work like that.  Instead, we live in a world in which everything is knotted together, an impregnable tangle of causes and effects.  Even when a system is dissected into its basic parts, those parts are still influenced by a whirligig of forces we can’t understand or haven’t considered or don’t think matter.  Hamlet was right: There really are more things in heaven and Earth than are dreamt of in our philosophy.
This doesn’t mean that nothing can be known or that every causal story is equally problematic.  Some explanations clearly work better than others, which is why, thanks largely to improvements in public health, the average lifespan in the developed world continues to increase. (According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, things like clean water and improved sanitation — and not necessarily advances in medical technology — accounted for at least 25 of the more than 30 years added to the lifespan of Americans during the 20th century.)  Although our reliance on statistical correlations has strict constraints — which limit modern research — those correlations have still managed to identify many essential risk factors, such as smoking and bad diets.
And yet, we must never forget that our causal beliefs are defined by their limitations.  For too long, we’ve pretended that the old problem of causality can be cured by our shiny new knowledge.  If only we devote more resources to research or dissect the system at a more fundamental level or search for ever more subtle correlations, we can discover how it all works.  But a cause is not a fact, and it never will be; the things we can see will always be bracketed by what we cannot.  And this is why, even when we know everything about everything, we’ll still be telling stories about why it happened.  It’s mystery all the way down.
There is a lot in there to think about – and even more in the entire article…
One final observation, while reviewing the article for this blog entry, I really noticed how much easier it is to follow Lehrer’s writing across various individual topics in Wired and in his other periodic publications.  This article was significantly longer than most of his columns in Wired.  It was really interesting to go back through the stream of his columns and recognize how much I’d enjoyed those “snipets” in a completely different context in the past without ever recognizing (consciously) they were the same author or the same theme.  In this case, with the monthly delay removed, I could recognize the spectrum of application of his own studies / observations across multiple “decision making” themes.  Now, when I get my new issues in the mail (yes, I still use “snail mail”), I can look forward to his columns like they are letters / updates from an old friend…
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If you are uncomfortable walking around your team’s workplace, awkward and out of place, you are a disconnected leader — not really part of the team.  Sitting in your office with the door closed and issuing edicts from on high is not communication, and is certainly not collaborative leadership.
  —  Bill Walsh
From his book:  “The Score Takes Care Of Itself
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This week was kind of a potpourri of mostly great entertainment:  I started off the week with an episode of Downton Abbey – exceptional British drama on PBS.  It’s the second season and the future heir is off to the trenches of France.  If you haven’t seen season one (and now, season two), you don’t know what you’re missing…
I finally got around to watching my DVD copy of “Green Lantern“.   I saw the movie in the theater back in June and my review (“In Brightest Day…“) was positive.  I’m a bit undecided on if the DVD translates to the smaller screen as well as some other grand-scale movies, but I think it’s pretty favorable.  I’m not sure why, but the movie seemed longer than I remembered it being in the theater – but it had also had a lot more action than I remember.  I’m not sure about Ryan Reynolds (the lead).  Some times he seemed to fit the character perfectly, and others, nope – don’t buy it at all.  The female love interest is played by Blake Lively, who seemed familiar, but I couldn’t place at all until I looked her up.  She was in the “Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants” movie, which I have seen but don’t recall.  I just remember her being a soccer player or something.  Anyway, now she reminds me of a young Jennifer Connally – meaning the camera loves her.  Hopefully, she can get some serious roles and we’ll find out if she has real chops or not.  I’m not sure if we’ll ever say that about Reynolds.  He’s in his mid-30’s now, so if he doesn’t start playing some serious roles soon, I’m not sure he ever will.  All in all, I still give the movie a favorable review and will watch it again soon.
One other comment on Reynolds.  I saw him opposite Sandra Bullock in “The Proposal“, and I thought he did very well in that role too.  Unfortunately, I’d say that role was more comedic than serious.  Not that a comic-book hero is comedic or serious, but you know what I mean…
On Wednesday I went for my first walk/slow jog in ages at the gym at work.  It felt so good I came home and watched “The Jericho Mile” again (see my review).  Still a great little made for TV movie.  Still inspirational.  Kudos to Michael Mann and Peter Strauss!!
Friday night I watched the two-hour ending of the TV series “Chuck“.  I remember watching this series when it first started five years ago.  It was the funniest (Nerd Herd), best written, sexiest (Sarah Walker), spy-spoof (Jeffster saves the General), crime-fighting series I’d seen in ages.  The finale crystalized in my mind the fallacy that nerds are socially inept loners.  In fact, nerds do herd!  And in herding, nerds gather strength.  (They also become even more nerdier…)  In the end, it took the whole team – including the Jeffster – to defeat evil and save the world as we know it (or want it to be) – a happy ending for the nerds.
Full disclosure time: way back in the second season, when it looked like the show was going to be cancelled, I was one of the fans who went to Subway (well, actually three Subways), bought a sandwich and asked the store manager to let the company know I liked their support of “Chuck” and hoped they’d keep the show on the air.  Two had no idea what I was talking about.  They didn’t even know Subway had product placement in the series!!  The third said he’d already had several people stop in and ask for him to support “Chuck” with a message to the head company.
Power to the nerds!!!
Last night, I also watched a documentary on diet and health titled: “Fat, Sick and Nearly Dead“.  It’s an excellent movie about how we are killing ourselves with the food we eat.  Dr. Joel Fuhrman, of “Eat To Live” fame, plays a prominent role in the movie explaining how we’re killing ourselves and how we can make a recovery.  The “interesting” thing to me is that his book says you need to eat the fruit and vegetables to get their goodness, but the movie says you can do it by simply juicing them.  My “gut-feeling” is (pun intended) that the book is correct and the movie less so, but still reasonably healthy.  To make a long story shorter, today I went out and bought a juicer.  Now the next step is …
Off to the store to get my fruit and veggies.
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The “big plays” in business —  or professional football —  don’t just suddenly occur out of thin air.  They result from very hard work and painstaking attention over the years to all of the details related to your leadership.
Talent, functional intelligence, experience, maturity, effort, dedication, and practice may not be perfect, but they will get you so close to perfection that most people will think you achieved it.  And the results will show it. …
…Your effort in the beginning is part of a continuum of effort; your Standard of Performance is part of a continuum of standards.  Today’s effort becomes tomorrow’s result.  The quality of those efforts becomes the quality of your work.  One day is connected to the following day and the following month to the succeeding years.
Your own Standard of Performance becomes who and what you are.   You and your organization achieve greatness.
  —  Bill Walsh
From his book: “The Score Takes Care Of Itself
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Superior health and optimal weight are no longer a matter of chance, but a matter of choice.  Try not to focus too much on the weight; focus on what you are doing.  The weight will drop naturally as a result of eating intelligently, exercising, and adopting a healthy lifestyle.  Neither you nor I am totally in control of it.  Your body will set the pace and gravitate toward the ideal weight for you when you eat healthfully.  Don’t worry if a few days go by without your losing weight; your body will lose at the rate it chooses is best.  Weight yourself as much or as little as you like, but most people find once weekly is sufficient to keep track of their results.
Most people lose weight and then stop losing when they have reached their ideal weight.  You are not the judge of your ideal weight; your body is.
  -–  Joel Fuhrman, M.D.
From his book:  “Eat To Live
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Because of our mutant powers of obsession, it’s my guess that a lot of nerds suffer from addiction.  Nerds get caught up in minutiae, because there is a tremendous and fulfilling sense of control in understanding every single detail of a thing more than any other living creature.  But we also tend to have a very active internal monologue (in some cases, dialog).  These are some delightful ingredients — mixed with a bit of genetic predisposition — for overdoing things that make us feel good in the moment.
  —  Chris Hardwick
From the article:  “Self-Help for Nerds: Advice from Comedian Chris Hardwick
Appearing in:  Wired Magazine, dtd:  November 2011
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Life demands assessment.  Indeed, it’s often improved by hearing from the Roger Eberts of the world (or whoever the equivalent is in the Review Your Purchases genre).  But we have to watch how much outside assessment we let in.  There’s something heartbreaking about surrendering to strangers the delicate moment of giving order to the world.  In those instances when we bring our cognitive reasoning to bear on our surroundings, when we aim our singularly human powers of evaluation at a piece of art or a fellow person, it’s a fundamental expression of the self.  There are wonderfully democratic and empowering things about an Internet full of anonymous voices.  But when those opinions replace our own blundering around for truth, we’re in trouble.  Too much charting becomes an unnecessary handrail, too many floodlights along the dark path.  I give that only two out of five stars.
  -–  Chris Colin
From the article:  “Rate This Article: What’s Wrong with the Culture of Critique
Appearing in:  Wired Magazine, dtd:  August 2011
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There’s an essential freedom in being alone with one’s thoughts, oblivious to and unpolluted by anyone else’s.  Diminish that aloneness and we start to doubt our own perspective.  …Sure, it’s entirely possible to arrive at one’s own opinion amidst a cacophony of others.  But it’s also possible to bend, unknowingly and imperceptibly, toward a position not naturally our own.
  –-  Chris Colin
From the article:  “Rate This Article: What’s Wrong with the Culture of Critique
Appearing in:  Wired Magazine, dtd: August 2011
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What did liberals do that was so offensive to the Republican party?
I’ll tell you what they did.
Liberals got women the right to vote.
Liberals got African-Americans the right to vote.
Liberals created Social Security and lifted millions of elderly people out of poverty.
Liberals ended segregation.
Liberals passed the Civil Rights Act, the Voting Rights Act.
Liberals created Medicare.
Liberals passed the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act.
What did conservatives do?
They opposed them on every one of those things — every one.
So when you try to hurl that label at my feet,
Liberal,’
As if it were something to be ashamed of,
Something dirty,
Something to run away from,
It won’t work, Senator.
Because I will pick up that label and I will wear it as a badge of honor.
  —  Lawrence O’Donnell Jr.
[“Yeah.  But, I’m _________!  What have you done for ME lately?”  (You fill in the blank…)  —  KMAB]
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Last night the Forty Niners lost the NFC Championship game to the New York Giants by the score of 20 to 17.
The early reviews are we blew the game with a couple of poorly executed special teams play – a muffed punt and a fumbled punt.  It would be easy to blame the kick returner as a focal point of disappointment.  The truth, unfortunately, is rarely that simple.  Is it likely that without those two errors we might have won the game?  We’ll never know.  But the simple truth in football is that it is a team game and one play and one player is almost never the single deciding factor.
On this day, the Giants were the better team – as determined by the final score.
Thank you Forty Niners for an enjoyable and exciting season!
Keep your heads up!!  We’ll get ’em next year!!!
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Our culture is afflicted with knowingness.  We exalt in being able to know as much as possible.  And that’s great on many levels.  But we’re forgetting the pleasures of not knowing.  I’m no Luddite, but we’ve started replacing actual experience with someone else’s already digested knowledge.
  —  Erik Davis
From the article:  “Rate This Article: What’s Wrong with the Culture of Critique
Written by:  Chris Colin
Appearing in:  “Wired Magazine” dtd: August 2011
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Last night I spent the evening watching two movies: “Hancock” and “Battle: Los Angeles“.  Both were very good and I highly recommend them.
Hancock:
This is a kind of Superman plus Highlander movie.  Suppose you woke up with no memory and super-powers – and, oh yeah, you don’t age.  What would you do?  How would you cope?  Imagine the loneliness of knowing every person you befriend or love will age and die while you never change.  Would you lose your sensitivity to others weaknesses?  Will Smith has the lead in this movie and he does surprisingly well. Smith isn’t an actor I’ve gone out of my way to see.  I enjoyed him in the “Men In Black” movies and in “Independence Day“, but other than those, don’t recall seeing much of his work.  Back to the movie…  It also has an interesting twist, which I didn’t see coming and which makes it an “everyman / no-man” movie.
The film was highly recommended by a colleague at work who I discuss movies with.  We’re both comic-book and animated movie fans and he recommended the movie shortly after it came out (2008).  It’s been on TV loads already as it’s several years old, but I’ve never been able to see the whole thing in one sitting or even all the bits, so I thought I knew what it was about (but didn’t).  As I said, highly recommended!
Battle: Los Angeles:
Unlike “Hancock“, this is a movie I have already seen.  I watched it on one of the flights when we went back to Liverpool this past summer (see Vacation, Books and Lots of Movies). I saw it on one of those 7 inch screens they have on the back of the chair in front of you.  I really enjoyed it then and it was even better on a larger screen.  As previously reviewed, any movie which destroys all (or most) of Los Angeles gets extra points in my book – and this movie does a pretty good job.  The movie stars Aaron Eckhart (“Two-Face” in the latest Batman movie) who plays an almost superhuman, gung-ho Marine sergeant.  It’s definitely an advert for the Marines (very, very militaristic gung-ho), but it also definitely worked for me as entertainment and as a proud veteran (Army not Marines).
There’s this thing about watching “war” movies (and action movies, too).  When you watch them, you’re always left feeling: NOBODY could have survived that, but the hero/protagonist and his small group of friends always does.  The “funny” thing is in war, that’s what actually does happen.  I don’t mean “a hero” survives.  I mean despite all the odds, some (individuals and groups) do survive, and they are bonded with the other survivors in a way normal folks can rarely be.
Rotten Tomatoes rated it a 31 and stated: “Overlong and overly burdened with war movie clichés, Battle: Los Angeles will entertain only the most ardent action junkies.”  When the shoe fits, I’ll wear it…  As stated in my original review:  “Highly recommended.  Oo-rah!!
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Every last trifle we touch and consume, right down to the paper on which this magazine is printed or the screen on which it’s displayed, is not only ephemeral but in a real sense irreplaceable.  Every consumer good has a cost not borne out by its price but instead falsely bolstered by a vanishing resource economy.  We squander millions of years’ worth of stored energy, stored life, from our planet to make not only things that are critical to our survival and comfort but also things that simply satisfy our innate primate desire to possess.  It’s this guilt that we attempt to assuage with the hope that our consumerist culture is making life better — for ourselves, of course, but also in some lesser way for those who cannot afford to buy everything we purchase, consume, or own.
When that small appeasement is challenged even slightly, when that thin, taut cord that connects our consumption to the nameless millions who make our lifestyle possible snaps even for a moment, the gulf we find ourselves peering into — a yawning, endless future of emptiness on a squandered planet — becomes too much to bear.
When 17 people take their lives, I ask myself, did I in my desire hurt them?  Even just a little?
And of course the answer, inevitable and immeasurable as the fluttering silence of our sun, is yes.
Just a little.
  —  Joel Johnson
From his article:  “1 Million Workers. 90 Million iPhones. 17 Suicides. Who’s to Blame?
Appearing in: “Wired Magazine” dtd: February 2011
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