Saturday, January 16, 2016

Linked - How Everything Is Connected

Once upon I time, I thought the World was well ordered, organized, and made sense...then I grew up.
We are taught two ways to organize or create order: tables (via spreadsheets, lists, etc.) and hierarchical trees (organization of large companies, "folders and files" on a computer, etc.).  But these approaches don't always work.  Here's a couple of examples:


You decide to make a a list of friends.  You include info like birthday, phone number, address; so your list turns into a table.  Then you add a column for spouse.  But some of the spouses are friends that you want to include the other information.  There are now links across rows and columns.  Then you decide to add a "group" column: family, school, church, etc.  Now there are extra links because a friend can belong to multiple "groups".

Hierarchical Tree

You decide to organize your photos in folders.  You have a folder for each year with sub-folders for  Birthdays, Weddings, Holidays, Graduations, Parties, Concerts, Sporting Events, School Events, Vacations, Miscellaneous.  Now, your family member is having a special event and you want to make a slide show of their life.  You have to search through every folder (which can be hundreds).  While you can find a photo for all birthdays in 2001, the organization doesn't help you find photos for a person.

In large businesses that typically have a hierarchical management structure, many have turned to a "matrix organization" with links between groups.

Scale-Free Network

Scientists have known for a long time that there was some kind of network structure, but they didn't understand it until recently when computers and an abundance of data gave them the ability to discover the nature of networks.  What they found is a "scale-free" network.  A network is a bunch of nodes (people, websites, companies, or just about anything) connected together.  A scale-free network has many nodes on the edges connected to just one or two other nodes.  Some of these form tightly connected clusters.  Many clusters and nodes are connected via hubs of progressively larger sizes.

Why is it called "Scale-Free"?  Basically, these networks can grow or "scale", "free" of a change in the network characteristics.

Examples of Scale-Free Networks:

  • The Internet (whether you consider it a network of computers or web pages with links)
  • Hollywood Actors (The "Kevin Bacon" effect, or actors that have been in movies with other actors)
  • The Spread of Aids (via the sexual partner network).
  • Metabolic network (the reactions of molecules in living cells)
  • Snowflake

Why Scale-Free Networks Matter

 "They are the patent signatures of self-organization in complex systems".  

We live in a complex world yet somehow the overall order arises when it wouldn't be expected.  You've heard the saying "Life is what happens while you are busy making other plans".  No one has the ability to control all circumstances in their life, yet self-organizing forces seem to pull it all together.

Another amazing property of scale-free networks is the idea of the "small-world".  In a network of countless nodes, two nodes are separated by a surprisingly small number of links.  While the magnitude in the world can be overwhelming, the pervasiveness of scale-free networks makes this truly "a small world after all".

This post is inspired by the book "Linked: How Everything Is Connected to Everything Else and What It Means for Business, Science, and Everyday Life" by Albert-laszlo Barabasi.

Saturday, December 5, 2015

The Top Ten Technologies of 2015

This is a list of what I think are the top 10 technologies this year.  Many new technologies are disruptive and replace old technologies.  For example, the telegraph replaced the pony express.  This list includes those technologies, new and old that dominate our lives.  The order is based on how long the technology has been around for the masses.  Think of it like an Olympic record: holding a record for longer is more impressive.  

10 The Smart Phone

The Smart Phone has basically replaced the GPS/Navigation Device, compact camera, MP3 players, and even made a dent in the personal computer industry.  But it is only #10 on the list since it is a relatively new technology.

9 The Internet

Billions of users and billions of pages.  It's Christmas and the stores seem empty because many people are buying stuff online. But it's still only a couple decades old.

8 The Microwave Oven

Used almost everyday by almost everyone.  It's approaching 50 years old, impressive for a "modern" technology.

7 Antibiotics

Has saved 100s of millions of lives.  Not bad for an accidental discovery.  70+ years old.

6 Airplanes

You can travel anywhere in the world in no time at all.  Even more amazing is how safe commercial flight is.  100 years old.

5 Automobiles

Not as fast as airplanes, but available to more people.  130 years old.

4 Airconditioning/Refrigeration

Keeps us and our food fresher, enabling us to live in more places.  About 100 years old. 

3 Electric Light

Allowed us to extend the day in a cleaner fashion.  Has been reinvented recently with LED lighting, but its still electric light.  130+ years old.

2 Electricity

Electricity is the power behind most other inventions.  Where would we be without it?

1 Sanitation

Flush toilets, clean water.  We would literally be dying without this amazing technology as is evident in parts of the world without sanitation.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

YASM: Why I hate politics

YASM = Yet another sports metaphor

Imagine this: every year you get excited when the sports season starts and you get to watch your favorite team.  However, something is a little different this year.  Teams are responsible for getting their own officiators.  Suddenly teams start winning more games at home...and losing away games.  At first the bias is subtle; but then it gets blatant.  The officiators are calling everything one sided: ignoring infractions of the home team and penalizing the visitors with invented calls.  You stop watching away games.  What's the point?  You know the outcome.  You like the home games; for a while.  Then you get bored of home games too.  It gets so bad, that teams stop traveling to away games.  The home teams start holding press conferences to complain about their opponents.  The forfeiting team holds their own press conference for the same reason.

Who are the losers?  The teams, the players, the fans.  The game is completely changed!

How does this relate to politics?  Each "team" or political party attempts to stack the deck in their favor and spends more and more time blaming the other party.   Somehow, they think they win by doing this.  In reality, they forget their "fans" (the voters) and the "game" (securing the rights of citizens: life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness).

That's why I hate politics.

Sunday, September 6, 2015

Mother Teresa: Terrorist?

Of course I believe that Mother Teresa was a true model of charity, but the following shows how one can edit anything to look bad.

Her organization was a cult[1].  Her works of charity were just a front for recruiting people to her ideology. [2]  And what was her ideology?  She refused funding offers from U.S. President Ronald Reagan [3] yet she accepted funding from criminals [4].  These funds were assuredly stolen money.  

She was a very dark soul.  In her own words:

"...Even deep down ... there is nothing but emptiness and darkness ... If there be God—please forgive me. When I try to raise my thoughts to Heaven, there is such convicting emptiness that those very thoughts return like sharp knives and hurt my very soul ... How painful is this unknown pain—I have no Faith. Repulsed, empty, no faith, no love, no zeal, ... What do I labor for? If there be no God, there can be no soul. If there be no soul then, Jesus, You also are not true." [5]
Did I convince you that Mother Teresa could have been a terrorist?  Maybe?  Just a tiny bit?

Of course I'm neglecting quotes like this (and about 1,000 others like them):

  • Peace begins with a smile. 
  • If you judge people, you have no time to love them.
  • The hunger for love is much more difficult to remove than the hunger for bread
  • If you can't feed a hundred people, then feed just one.
  • If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other.
My point is, first "see the good".  If all you hear, read or learn about something is negative, yet is still has an abundance of supporters, it deserves a fair investigation.  Politics and religion come to mind.  So do neighbors, coworkers, family members, and anyone not like us.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

The Parable of Donating Blood: Are We Bleeding to Death?

I donate blood regularly, about 2 to 4 times a year.  Someone in need gets my blood in a potentially life saving procedure and I get the satisfaction of helping out.  Recently our local donation center has been calling more often asking for more frequent donations as there is a shortage of my blood type.  The limit is once every 8 weeks, enough time for the body to replenish the blood supply.

Imagine if the need for blood increased so that voluntary donations weren't enough.  All healthy people were required to give their blood.  At first it was only once a year.  Due to the abundance of blood, new cures are discovered requiring blood.  The increase in demand results in the need for two mandatory blood "donations" a year.  Then 3 a year. Then 4 a year.   Soon, every healthy person has to give blood every 8 weeks to keep up with demand.

The experts realize that we can actually give blood every 7 weeks and still be healthy.  Demand increases.  So they change it to every 6 weeks, then 5 weeks, 4, 3, 2...

The whole system becomes unsustainable as more and more donors become too sick to donate.

Does this sound unrealistic?

Yesterday, the headlines read "CBO report forecasts unsustainable debt in long term"

What does that mean?

Debt is like taking someone's blood.  You can't just keep doing it.

Our country used to sustain itself financially without an income tax (before the 16th Amendment in 1913).  The income tax was small at first (just 1%), but it has continually increased.  Then the revenues weren't enough for the demands of the nation, so we started going into debt.  Like the example of the blood donations, the amount of money being pulled out of our economy to pay for our debt will exceed the sustainable levels required for a healthy recovery.  In my opinion, this is the biggest threat that our country faces (more than climate change, immigration, terrorism, healthcare, etc.).  Are we bleeding to death?  We will if things don't change.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

I'm for Late Term Abortions

Recently Planned Parenthood was in the news for allegedly selling parts of aborted fetuses.  I decided to take the reemergence of this issue as an opportunity to express my views on abortion.

I'm pro-choice and I'm for late term abortions.  Actually, I think that late term abortions should be extended to 18 years.  Let me explain.

If a parent can decide if they don't want their child before they've even met him or her, then they should be allowed to make that decision after they've met the child removing all doubt that they don't want them (I know that's a run on sentence, but if you read it again, you'll get my point).  Some children are just difficult and not very likeable.  They're too much trouble.  Even into their teens.  Especially in their teens.  As long as a parent is legally responsible for the child, they should be able to abort them.

Before you object, consider the practical advantages to these later term abortions.  Parents would now have extra leverage when trying to discipline their children.  Imagine, these scenarios:

"Johnny, get your homework done or else we'll abort you!"

"You know why you don't see Sheila anymore?  It's because his parents aborted her.  That's right.  So eat your vegetables!"

Regarding both parents needing to give consent, I'll leave that to the abortion experts.  That's a controversial subject I just don't feel comfortable addressing since it is so sensitive.

If you think the idea of later term abortions is harsh, we could have a cooling off period before parents could act on it.  For example, if a parent wants to abort their child, they have to count to 10 before they can actually do it.

Just think about it, all these people probably would've been aborted, saving us much grief:
  • The person that cut you off on the road or took your parking place.
  • Those people that post those annoying "repost this or else" posts.
  • Bloggers (or at least anyone who started blogging after I did).
  • Greedy hedge fund, derivative trading, Wall Street tycoons (Or at least we could hope so!)
I'm sure there might be some potentially good children that get aborted, but that's a small cost at making the world a better place.  Any way you look at it, I'm just glad I'm over 18.

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

An Antidote for Intolerance

Intolerance unwillingness to accept views, beliefs, or behavior that differ from one's own 

I'm intolerant and I don't plan on changing.  There are some views, beliefs and behavior that I'm unwilling to accept, for example:

  • The view that America is NOT great (I think America is GREAT!)
  • The belief that you can continuously spend more than you make (I believe we must live within our means)
  • Behavior like abusing children (I love children and see our future in them).
My intolerance is usually directed at views/beliefs/behaviors that I deem to be harmful to our "general welfare" or way of life, therefore I feel justified in my intolerance.  "Save the Whales!!!" or whatever I feel passionate about.

The problem with "intolerance" is that being intolerant can drive you a little nuts.  We get heated, angry, mean, desperate when we express our intolerance.   Intolerance is more like a disease than a cure.

 I don't like the symptoms, so after some soul-searching, I think I found an "antidote". I'm not giving up intolerance, just trying to treat the side effects.

a medicine taken or given to counteract a particular poison. 

The antidote is partially inspired by a story from  "The Life and Times of Frederick Douglass".  As a slave, he was treated worse than a dog.  Frederick was very intolerant of slavery (unwilling to accept).  Then he got a new master.  The mistress was kind and began to teach him to read.  When the master found out, he immediately put a stop to the "learning".  Frederick's response was surprisingly: gratitude!  He was beginning to tolerate slavery, but this "set back" reminded him of his resolve to be a free man.  He then focused his attention on striving to be free.

The antidote is simple.  Whenever I feel the negative emotions associated with intolerance, I think "What behaviors of my own can I change?"  Am I spending too much time on the computer?  Am I eating the right things?  Am I treating those I interact with kindness and respect?  My intolerance of others will never change them or make the world a better place.  My intolerance of myself has a better chance of change for good.  This antidote takes the following quote to the next level: 
"He who is without sin... let him cast the first stone"
Let other's "sins" remind us of our own sins, so that we can take action to change, improve our own station and "be free men".
"Be the change you want to see in the World"  - Mahatma Gandhi