Tuesday, October 18, 2016

The Marshmallow Test Debunked

I'm sure you've heard of the marshmallow test from the 1960's - children are told by a researcher "You can have one marshmallow now or if you wait until I come back, you can have two marshmallows".  The children that delayed gratification proved to be more successful in later life and less likely to succumb to problems such as drugs, teen pregnancy, etc.  The conclusion:


Recently (2012), this formula was questioned by researchers at the University of Rochester.  They modified the marshmallow test.  First, kids were put in a room with art supplies.  The children were told by an adult "I'm going to get better supplies.  Wait until I get back".  The kids were split into two groups:

  1. The adult came back with better art supplies
  2. The adult came back with a lame excuse and no better art supplies
The children were then given the marshmallow test.  The results were that the kids with the reliable environment were significantly more likely to wait to get two marshmallows.  The conclusion:


and the corollary would be:


So if we want our next generation to be successful, we need to create an environment where they believe that any sacrifice or effort they make will be worth it.  This is a good message for parents.  It is also a good message for policy makers that want to help our communities that can't seem to rise above poverty.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

A Filing System for Your Memory

In "Algorithms to Live By", by Brian Christian and Tom Griffiths, they relate the Noguchi Filing System to how we store and retrieve memories.

The Noguchi filing system is very simple.  Keep a box of files.  Add all files to the left side of the box, even if it is a file that you just pulled out.  Search for all files starting from the left.  The result is that all of the most commonly accessed files are kept on the left side of the box and are therefore found more quickly.

How does this relate to memory?  Research shows that your memory fades over time.  This usually is thought to be due to our imperfect brains while it might actually be due to newer memories "pushing" older memories to the right in our Noguchi Filing System box.

What's the trick for remembering something?  Pull it out and put it back on the left side.  

- Do you want to remember important information?  Then make it something you "look at" regularly.
- Do you want to remember meaningless drivel?  If not, then stop adding it to your file.

For me, I make sure to get a daily dose of scripture.

Final Thought:

Is it possible when we meditate we stop adding new files and give God a chance to sort our memories in an order that is better than the order that results from our random meandering through information?

Monday, August 15, 2016

New Favorite

Galatians 5:14 For all the law is fulfilled in one word, even in this; Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.

When I think about this passage, I think about all of the complex laws, rules and regulations.  I think about man's interpretations of God's desires.  I realize that I need to look at everyone through God's eyes; with love.  It's surprisingly easy since the alternative is painful.

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.