Points to Ponder

Blogs that pose interesting conundrums

What Science Knows and What Businesses Do

This post was originally just going to be a link to a video. Then I started doing some more research and some more digging and this post is what I’ve come up with. I think this is a testament to the magnitude of the idea I’m going to be passing on. Thus, whatever you are doing, stop now and pay attention.

“There’s a mismatch between what science knows and what business does.” – Dan Pink

Dan Pink will describe in 10 short minutes (along with an awesome animation) the truth about what actually motivates us. Surprisingly (or not), money is not what motivates us (generally speaking). Instead, the three factors that lead to better performance & personal satisfaction are:

  • autonomy
  • mastery
  • purpose

Not only that, but we have the research1 and data2 to back this up.

The following animation is adapted from Dan Pink’s talk at the RSA3:

Note: you may need to click through if you can’t see the video above.

Dan has a book that recently came out, Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us, that I believe goes into more depth. I already had Drive on my book list, but after watching that video I’ve moved it to the top. One of the research papers Dan talks about was completed by behavior economist Dan Ariely, who also wrote Predictably Irrational: The Hidden Forces That Shape Our Decisions and the follow up The Upside of Irrationality: The Unexpected Benefits of Defying Logic at Work and at Home4.

This all leads to a point.

As much as like doing what I do, I also feel like I’m being stifled, especially as a result of old-fashioned nine-to-five, carrot-and-stick incentives. Thus, when I think about wanting to work at a small company, it’s not because I don’t like people or want to work with fewer people, it’s because there is more freedom to do what I want, more freedom to explore, to freedom to innovate, and that’s what I want.

To be clear, this isn’t about working less, it’s about working best. If I can get done in six hours what you think should take eight hours, why can’t I go home early? Am I being paid to be available to solve problems or to actually solve problems? Work that requires even marginal amount of thinking should5 be Results-Only Work Environments, not Presenteeism Work Environments.

All the money in the world can’t buy happiness and I’d rather being making $10k (or whatever) less and truly enjoy what I do; and this is the problem.

From experiencefreak.com:

Currency for motivation is becoming more intangible. … [A] fun/surprising reward can be more motivating than a functional cash incentive or discount. A competitive, peer interaction and temporal element drives motivation. Case in point look at how 4Square drives engagement.

I think the current generation of engineers6 gets this idea. We aren’t as tied to money as we are tied to autonomy, mastery, and purpose. I like purpose, it makes me feel like I’ve actually done something useful. And I like mastery, because I’m sort of anal like that. And I like autonomy, because I’ve found ways of doing things that work really, really well for me and get the job done. And money can’t buy any of that.

I see this at play in my own life in literally everything outside of work (i.e. my seven-to-three job): writing plugins for WordPress, running a triathlon, leading a Bible study, taking photographs. These are the things that make me happy. Engineering makes me happy too, but not as much as I think it could; which I believe has to do with the current method that I practice it.

See also:

From www.acceleratingfuture.com:

Why Intelligent People Fail
Content from Sternberg, R. (1994). In search of the human mind. New York: Harcourt Brace.

  1. Lack of motivation. A talent is irrelevant if a person is not motivated to use it. Motivation may be external (for example, social approval) or internal (satisfaction from a job well-done, for instance). External sources tend to be transient, while internal sources tend to produce more consistent performance.

via Kottke

  1. Large Stakes and Big Mistakes 

  2. “A long history of research has demonstrated that rewards can decrease motivation and attitudes (Festinger & Carlsmith, 1959), alter self-perception (Bem, 1965), increase overjustification (Lepper et al., 1973), and turn feelings of competence into feelings of being controlled (Deci & Ryan, 1985).” Source: Effort for Payment: A Tale of Two Markets 

  3. The original talk is about 40 minutes long and is pretty much an expanded version of the talk Dan Pink gave at TED on motivation 

  4. these two books are also on my reading list 

  5. generally; there are, of course, exceptions to the rule 

  6. et alii 

Memorial Day

50.0 mm || 1/400 || f/11.0 || NIKON D70

It takes on a new meaning when you realize you’re part of the system that helps to ensure the safety of millions of American military men and women.

I hope you all had a safe and wonderful Memorial Day and weekend.

P.S. Sorry this is a day late.


My Brief Thoughts on Northwest Flight 253

I’m going to keep this short, no more than 250 500 1000 words1.

As you all know by now, there was an attempt to blow up another airplane. Although it was initially reported someone lighting off firecrackers, it was soon discovered to be a makeshift bomb and “Bomb experts say there was more than enough explosive to bring down the Northwest jet, which had nearly 300 people aboard, had the detonator not failed.”2

I haven’t heard much as to the explosive nature of the bomb, other than it was “PETN3 and possibly a glycol-based liquid explosive”4 and it was “carried in a soft plastic container – possibly a condom.”5

While there may have been enough explosives present by mass to destroy an airliner (and I even have some doubts about that6, given the lack of calculations I’ve seen), what are the odds7 of our suspect (or any future suspect) maximizing the effectiveness of such an explosive given their circumstances?

Here’s what I’m really concerned about though: Richard Clarke, former counterterrorism czar and ABC News consultant, has this to say, “We’ve known for a long time that this is possible and that we really have to replace our scanning devices with more modern systems.” Clarke said full body scans were needed, “but they’re expensive and they’re intrusive. They invade people’s privacy.”8

Responding to a need for fuller and more frequent body pat-downs and scanning, Rep. Peter King of New York, the top Republican on the Homeland Security Committee, said, “I think we have to head in that direction… Yes, there is some brief violation of privacy with a full body scan. But on the other hand, if we can save thousands of lives, to me, we have to make that decision.”9

Why are we continuing to move in a direction that is A) ineffective and B) in violation of our constitutional rights10? (See also: A Discussion on the Fourth Amendment and National Security)

In response, the TSA has issued emergency rules that I’m sure will go far in helping keep people safe: From www.businessweek.com:

Airline passengers traveling to the U.S. from other countries were ordered to remain seated for the last hour in flight, and were limited to one carry-on item in response to an attempted terrorist attack yesterday on a Northwest Airlines flight to Detroit from Amsterdam.
New U.S. Transportation Security Administration rules also prohibit passengers from getting anything from their carry-on bags or having anything in their laps in the final hour of flight, the agency said.

Bruce Schneier, an internationally renowned security technologist and author, had this to say in response to Northwest Flight 253 and the new TSA rules:
From www.schneier.com:

And what sort of magical thinking is behind the rumored TSA rule about keeping passengers seated during the last hour of flight? Do we really think the terrorist won’t think of blowing up their improvised explosive devices during the first hour of flight?

For years I’ve been saying this:

Only two things have made flying safer [since 9/11]: the reinforcement of cockpit doors, and the fact that passengers know now to resist hijackers.

This week, the second one worked over Detroit. Security succeeded.

Now is not the time stripping more of my rights away in the name of security; I’m and sick and tired of being treated like a criminal. (My new policy: “Do I have the right to refuse this search?”)

Now is the time establish a new type of a system; a system that works. I don’t have all the answers, but I do know that what we have now and the path we’re on is ineffective and needs to change.

And may God help whoever tries to blowup a plane I’m on; because I will own their sorry ass.

Thumbnail: “I’m as mad as hell, and I’m not going to take this anymore!” from Network (1976), released by MGM. © 1976 MGM.

  1. including quotes and footnotes 

  2. Officials: Only A Failed Detonator Saved Northwest Flight 

  3. NB: Same explosive Richard Reid used in 2001; gee, taking my shoes off during screening really helped prevent that from happening again… 

  4. U.S. Airline Security Reviews Under Way 

  5. Official: Explosive PETN Used in Attack 

  6. PETN – hard to detect and just 100g can destroy a car 

  7. The Odds of Airborne Terror 

  8. Officials: Only A Failed Detonator Saved Northwest Flight 

  9. U.S. Airline Security Reviews Under Way 

  10. “The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.” – Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution 

What I’m Not Doing Today

For the first time in, well, 17 years or so, I’m not going to school.

Sometimes, it seemed like I’d never get from here:

135.0 mm || 1/640 || f/11.0 || ISO400 || NIKON D70

to here:

18.0 mm || 1/100 || f/3.5 || ISO500 || NIKON D70

It still hasn’t quite set in yet, maybe by lunch time it will.

And if you thought the last five years were awesome? I can’t even begin to image what God has in store for the next five.


The Molehills are Still Real

The other day we were discussing a talk given by Naomi Wolf about her book The End of America: Letter of Warning To A Young Patriot where she lays out what she sees happening in America and a fascist America in 10 steps.

The question at hand was, more or less: are the arguments that Naomi Wolf presenting accurate?

Without going into too much detail about our discussion, I want to reiterate a great point that Mark made. To paraphrase Mark, “She’s definitely making mountains out of molehills. But the molehills are still real.”

So often we, the people, are so caught up in disproving the mountain that we forget the molehill still exists. People, for whatever reason, tend to blow things way out of proportion and instead of saying, “You may be right, but you’re blowing it out of proportion,” we say, “No, you’re wrong,” without ever stopping to question if there may be truth to their fundamental argument.

And this isn’t limited to one particular party or ideology either. Conservatives, Liberals, Libertarians, and even those without a side…everyone is doing it. So please stop. Your real message was lost long ago.


Education: What’s It Worth?

Editors Note: This post is written by Shaun Rowsell and is part of the 5th 20 Something Bloggers Blog Swap. Shaun Rowsell can regularly be found on his own blog at 20Something Gamer.

Remember when you’d be in a restaurant or a garage and your parents used to say to you “If you don’t do well in school this is where you’ll end up”?

I used to believe that statement, so I studied hard in school, got good enough results to get into a top university and I have finished my second year of a computer sciences course.

And where have I ended up, you may (or may not) ask? In a garage, working for the same people my Mum used to say didn’t do well in school.

I am in this position due to the recession we are currently in. Companies only want people with experience to fill posts, most manual labour jobs are given to foreigners who will work twice as hard for half the pay (don’t get me wrong, they’re nice people and do some AMAZING work), and stores claim I’m “over-qualified” to work there.

This begs the question… Nowadays, what is an education worth? Or does £30001 a year just get you a piece of paper to hang next to your McDonalds uniform?

One great thing though, about being like this, is when the new generation of parents say to their children, “If you don’t do well in school this is where you’ll end up” I can turn to the parent and say, “I have a University Degree, your kids gonna end up here no matter what!”

  1. ~$5000 USD 

The Esoterics of Image Sharpening

I’ve been working on clearing out my huge backlog of photos. I’ve been trying to streamline my process as much as I can in order to get the pictures out the door. As it stands right now, I use no fewer than four programs to get a picture from my camera to the internet:

  • Adobe Lightroom: 99% of all editing
  • Adobe Photoshop: Image sharpening
  • Microsoft Pro Photo Tools: Geotagging
  • Flickr Uploadr: Image uploading

There’s some overlap in what Lightroom and Photoshop can do in terms of sharpening. However, I was curious to see what the actual differences are.

On the right is the regular image, as exported from Lightroom, with no sharpening.

In the middle is the image exported from Lightroom with the maximum amount of sharpening for the screen1.

On the left is the regular image, as exported from Lightroom, with the 100% of the “Smart Sharpen” filter applied with default settings.

Here’s the image at 100% normal:
Can you tell the difference?

Here’s the same image, enlarged to almost 250%:

Looking at the eyes, you can definitely tell the difference. It also make a big difference in the hair too. However, I wonder if the Photoshop Smart Sharpen is adding too much grain? Sure, the eyes don’t look as good, but the cheeks seem more natural.

Like I said, esoteric.

Another issue also cropped2 up with the differences in saving a JPEG at “12” (super best quality, there is no higher quality) versus “8” (just high quality). As it turns out, not as much difference as I had expected. The file size is also reduced by about 7 times as well.

Another thought, what happens when you save a JPEG over and over again? Hadto solves the question, or raises more questions, with his video Generation Loss, in which he “Open the last saved jpeg image. Save it as a new jpeg image with slightly more compression. Repeat 600 times”:

Generation Loss from hadto on Vimeo.

And yes, these are honestly the things that keep me awake at night.

  1. versus print 

  2. no pun intended, I swear 

On Reaching the Mean and the Effect of Self-awareness

Editors note: Here’s a short essay that I wrote for my Introduction to Ethics course. It’s not profound or anything, but I think it’s worth sharing.

After discussing “The Particular Virtues of Character,” in Book II, Chapter 7, Aristotle wonders, “How Can We Reach the Mean?” In Book II, Chapter 9 of Nicoachean Ethics, Aristotle writes, “…virtue of character is a mean…between two vices, one of excess and one of deficiency; and that it is a mean because it aims at the intermediate condition in feelings and actions.” (Book II, Chapter 9, §1)

While Aristotle’s proposition seems to be simple at first glance, Aristotle admits that it is, in fact, “hard work to be excellent.” (Book II, Chapter 9, §2) Aristotle argues that finding the mean in virtuousness is not as easy as calculating the numeric intermediary of two numbers. In fact, Aristotle even admits that not everyone can find the intermediate. (Book II, Chapter 9, §2)

Since it is so hard to reach the exact intermediary, Aristotle suggests (among other things) that we try our best to get as close as we can, taking “the lesser of the evils.” (Book II, Chapter 9, §4) As a scientist (and engineer), I feel that this approach presents a unique paradox.

In quantum mechanics, the simple act of measuring a particle invariably affects its properties. For example, when a photon has a polarity, the only way to determine what polarity the photon has is to test it by filtering it through a like polarity filter. This, however, is a destructive (destroying the information, not the photon itself) test if the two polarities are dissimilar. In short, we have affected the property of our particle by simply measuring it.

In a similar way, one wonders how being consciously aware of one’s position relative to the intermediate affects one’s virtuousness. Although such influence does not have to be destructive, it could also be constructive.

Aristotle uses the examples of becoming angry, giving and spending money. In the case of giving money, Aristotle measures virtue by how well we give money “to the right person, in the right amount, at the right time, for the right end, and in the right way.” (Book II, Chapter 9, §2)

Let us suppose we have a cat that does not chase down mice; is the cat inherently unvirtuous? How could the cat be unvirtuous? It is not in this particular cat’s nature to pursue mice and, not being aware of itself, it does not know any better; even though cats are supposed to chase mice. So let us assume that the cat is not unvirtuous for this reason.

Now, let us suppose that I do not normally tithe, even though I am a church going person; that is to say that it is not in my nature to tithe. Does this make be inherently unvirtuous? Unlike the cat, I cannot claim ignorance, since I am self-aware. I know that in the Bible, Numbers 18:26 states that I “must present a tenth of that tithe as the LORD’s offering.” (NIV) I am aware that I have fallen short of my obligations, and thus I must be unvirtuous. Is it this self-realizing and self-correcting behavior that allows me to be unvirtuous? One could argue that it is because of my ability to know the difference between right and wrong that I am able to virtuous or not.


Thoughts on the P-I’s Closing

After the Rocky Mountain News closed shop a couple weeks ago, I knew it was only a matter of time before the P-I followed. However, I didn’t expect the P-I to remain with an online-only staff.

But you know what, I’m excited to see what they do. I had the chance to meet Mónica Guzmán (@moniguzman) a couple of months ago. Guzmán is the PI’s first full time online-only reporter (which I read as: first full-time blogger) as the main contributer to The Big Blog. I’ll be honest that I haven’t been following the her blog very much (I have about 175 others that I’m following and I’m trying to cut back), but I think now that the P-I is switching to an online-only format that I will start following TBB.

I think people like Guzmán are the future of what newspapers were.

Jason Preston agrees that the P-I could be on to something:
From eatsleeppublish.com:

It looks to me like Hearst is taking a very smart approach to their first online-only big-city daily. This from Michelle Nicolosi, currently Executive Producer at the Seattle P-I:

We don’t have reporters, editors or producers–everyone will do and be everything: Everyone will write, edit, take photos and shoot video, produce multimedia and curate the home page. That’ll be a training challenge for everyone, but we’re all up for the challenge and totally ready to pick up all these skills.

I think this will prove that newspapers can make the jump, if they try.

Finally, I just wanted to point out how cool David Horsey‘s final editorial carton was:

© 2009 Seattle PI

© 2009 Seattle P-I

Note the eagle, which is usually perched on top of the globe.

Anyway, I’m really excited to see what the P-I does now and that concludes my thoughts.


Failing with Grace

The other morning, I was thinking about one my goals for this year: Failing with Grace. I don’t think that’s quite right; I think it should be: Failing into Grace.