Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Who's In Charge?

[I heard this from a friend and I'm leaving out details to avoid getting anyone in trouble]

A talented surgeon announced that he was leaving the military hospital where he worked.  The top brass at the hospital, not wanting to lose someone indispensable, asked "Is there anything I can do to convince you to stay?"  

The surgeon replied quickly, "Yes.  Give me my own parking place and a secretary."  (I was surprised to hear what little it would take to keep him there).  After looking into it, the top brass found that they were unable to provide these simple demands.  The surgeon left.

What prompted this request was the surgeon rushing to the hospital to perform an emergency surgery.  He was unable to find a parking spot so he parked illegally and left a note on his car "Had to rush to surgery".  His car had been towed away when he came back.

Couldn't the person in charge have come up with a clever solution, like valet parking?  If the person in charge of the hospital is not empowered to solve a simple parking problem, then who is in charge?  
The truth is that no one is in charge.  Instead, a collection of disconnected bureaucratic rules are "in charge".  The result in a situation like this is that talented people are repelled by the bureaucratic stupidity.  

Friday, March 11, 2016

Change: Deciding Who is Right

"Somethings gotta change!"

This seems to be the cry of anyone who wants to be in charge.  The cry has gotten louder as we are in the season of preparing to change our President.  The fact of "change" is that it always has costs and benefits.  The goal is to try and influence change where the benefits are greater than the costs.  Let's look at a couple of politically influenced changes.  I'm picking issues from both sides of the political debate.

The War on Terror

"Somebody has to pay for 9/11!".  


The World knows we mean business.  A lot of terrorists that were doing horrible things (bombing, killing, beheading innocent people) can no longer do those things.


  • Over $1,000,000,000,000 (I think a trillion means more when it is written as zeros).  Expected to reach $5 trillion.
  • Our warriors personal sacrifice (losing their lives, separation from family, etc.)
  • An estimated 1/3 of our soldiers suffering from some form of mental disease or trauma as a result of the war, including suicide
  • More terrorists.


"I'd rather have a thousand lazy bums live off my tax dollars than let one poverty-stricken family go without food or shelter" (I found this on Facebook).  


  • Reducing human suffering, especially for innocent children.
  • Giving people a chance so that they can become productive members of society (I'm mostly thinking about educational or training opportunities)


If you take wealth from wealth producers and give to the "poor", the immediate result is a reduction in wealth.  If the recipients of welfare don't become wealth producers, the long term result is a further decrease in the reduction of wealth, which can result in an increase in poverty.


"Build a fence" or "Path to citizenship for illegal immigrants".  I don't like these solutions so I will propose my own.   First, I'm not calling the people illegal, I'm calling their immigration illegal.  Many of the illegal immigrants are simply looking for opportunities to improve their economic or social situation.  They are willing to come here and work for lower wages, live at or below the poverty level and live at risk from our justice system BECAUSE here they find higher wages, higher standards of living and a fair justice system.  WE hire them as housekeepers, gardeners, laborers BECAUSE it improves our standard of living (we pay them less and have more money for other things). 

My solution: institute a worker permit program.  Let their employer(s) sponsor them for citizenship if that's the path they want. 


  • The illegal immigrants can have the dignity of living within the law.
  • Hopefully a reduction of people who prey on illegal immigrants ("coyotes")  
  • Our nation is strengthened as we can start enforcing immigration laws instead of turning a blind eye.


  • More government bureaucracy as we try to enforce the law.
  • Some of these legal resident workers (a possibly small percentage) won't value our laws, customs or culture with possible negative side effects.
  • Once foreign workers become legal, if they are entitled to benefits provided by taxes, then one could argue that they should be taxed, which raises the costs of their wages, which promotes illegal citizenship.  

Writing about everything else

I could go on and on with healthcare, gun control, free trade, civil rights, abortion, drugs, affirmative action, balanced budget, smaller government.


To provide a more thorough comparison (I have thoughts on many issues.  It would be nice to put them in writing)


My time writing this, your time reading it (if you got this far).

"A wealth of information creates a poverty of attention"

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.