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A Paradox of Resources

November 15, 2014 Leave a comment

In The Four Hour Work Week, Tim Ferriss observes a paradox of resources:

It is possible to have too much of a good thing, in excess most endeavors and possessions take on the characteristics of their opposite. Thus, pacifists become militants, freedom fighters become tyrants, blessings become curses, help becomes hindrance, more becomes less. Too much, too many, and too often of what you want becomes what you don’t want. This is true of possessions and even time.

Disregarding its excess of commas, the statement is a powerful idea. To have too much is, it seems, a dangerous condition. Are we vulnerable with too much stuff? Can freedom or happiness somehow transform from treasures to cherish to hazards to avoid? For Ferriss, this is just the message and in reading his quotation note both warning and suggestion: find balance in your life.

In considering this paradox one can develop an extensive list where the idea rings true. All emotions fit the bill and one need only watch thirty minutes of television to see the desperate search for emotional control on display. Too much fat and too much gray; the calamities are endless. One wonders if with each repair appears another hole to patch.

Likewise with our objects which acquired with desire become objects meshed with leash. We link ourselves with cell phones and stress ourselves with an abstract sense of “connection”. One is “up on things” when each headline has been considered and each message sliced with reply. The “Inbox Zero” concept is some desperate need for clarity. Can we clear the air from all this stuff? Does our data run the day?

One wonders how our data is existence. We are measured in all contexts be it place or time or context. Imagine a dinner party where from market to dessert we are spilling forth our data. From the market where our discount card’s bar code connects our purchase with our demographics to the dinner where some wayward guest posts photos to Facebook. The internet knows where we are…and were…and often where we’re going.

Our Cake of Twenty-Three Percent

November 5, 2014 Leave a comment

As of 2013, Ohio’s population was thirteen-million people. Of those, 7.75 million are said to be registered to vote. This is 59.6% of the population. Only 3.1 million people cast ballots in the 2014 mid-term election. This is roughly 40% of those registered and a mere 23% of all citizens in the state. While lack of registration of election day means its impossible to vote, one does have significant swaths of time to register to vote. So-called “motor-voter” laws encourage voter registration by including the ability to register to vote at DMV offices.

One wonders why one wouldn’t vote. Yes, some argue that a single vote has no difference (reducing down to being a 1 in 10 million chance of being decisive), but statistics are unrelated factors here. Instead, I view voting as an act of participation. To be a citizen in a democracy is to be a member of a social machine of sorts, a human construct designed to have human representation as its gears and parts. We vote for representatives who form symbolic collectives of our community who then go on to represent our views in government. The idea is that these representatives will enact, detract or propose legislation that reflects our collective belief. This, of course, is Civics 101 and stupid, simple logic.

But what are we to make of a system where 23% of the population participate. Imagine society as a car. How would a car that is 23% complete function? How might a child respond to a birthday cake that is 23% whole? Unfortunately this is just the cake we’ve baked. Worse yet, while the solution remains in grasp (people can register and vote), the likelihood that they will remain highly doubtful. We live in a world where people will camp outside stores to buy the latest model of expensive electronic toys and yet find no reason to bubble in the teeny tiny dots of a ballot. What purpose does it have? some ask. One wonders where the hesitancy comes in? Is it useless? Well, so what. What other daily chores do we complete that have no functional utility? To vote is to participate and build the machinery of state. At the very least, vote simply to have the right to complain. See those who complain without voting as the baker’s complaining about how bad their 23% completed cake is. What would we say to them? Finish your work, do your job. Low voting rates are tragic. One wonders how such lack of concern for a civic action stems from a country where people died for such a right. Though I know that no one reads this, please, if so inspired take the second to register:

Perfectionist Pursuits

September 4, 2014 Leave a comment

.“If you wait for perfect conditions, you will never get anything done.”
― Ecclesiastes 11:4

Perfection is a relative condition. Your ideal self might be a nightmare for another. The ideal number, an ideal form: one’s relative impression of what-should-be is a self-defined determinant.

As with many pitfalls of consciousness, one’s ability to self-justify perfectionism provides the warm balm in the face of cognitive dissonance. Faced with the question, “Am I taking this too far?” or “Have I finally lost control”, one’s list of past successes lights the way to justify behavior. Greet the doubt with explanation: the reason for success, my only saving grace. A spiraled list is possible as one’s quest for something higher assumes a risk for a reward. We exist in a world where great risk takers have been rewarded for their efforts. Read a biography of Steve Jobs and one will note the list of anecdotal moments of perfectionist tantrums. Can we link this need to his success. Be wary readers, correlation is not causation and one wonders just how many great ideas were lost by Jobs’ obsession with a perfect shade of blue.

Ironically, the quest to understand perfectionism involves an on-going struggle for a “perfect” model. Frost’s Multidimensional Perfectionism Scale” appeared in 1990. Its six item breakdown of common ‘perfectionist’ features lasted but a single year as Hewitt and Flett’s model of 1991 expanded the list to forty-five items. Then again a change was needed and in 1996 with the Slaney model titled “Almost-Perfect Scale” a broader sense was founded. In 2000’s, Daniels and Pierce made an attempt. Yes, the quest remains in progress: never perfect, always striving.

Despite the numerous models, a common collection of personality traits appear in the models. In general, these revolve around an obsession with the self. It branches far and wide and swarms to encompass every aspect of one’s life. Whether physical or mental, the quest for perfectionism casts one into an impossible gauntlet of needing more. Never perfect, always striving. “I refuse to be content.”

Ultimately, the solution lies not with perfecting the personal piggy bank of life. To make the fix? You need to break the pig. To be perfect is impossible, so to crack the need is to solve the puzzle. The solution to perfectionism lies within the heart of the perfectionist: accept yourself for who you are and come to terms with the ugly, stinky mess that is existence here and now.

 

Ethical Generic?

July 14, 2014 2 comments

A scientist who toils towards progress works with intellectual property rights by her side. Knowing that her great discovery will be protected so that the organization she works for can profit and further fund discoveries allows her to absorb additional costs. In essence, greater risk allows for greater reward if a major breakthrough is found. Medical companies often cite these protections as essential components to their work: by profiting from a drug like Viagra, Pfizer can work towards medications for highly puzzling yet unknown diseases. Is the road towards the cure for cancer paved in prescriptions for Viagra or Botox?

These controls over intellectual property are not eternal. Depending on the industry the law declares a certain amount of time for protection to exist. Once extinguished the “secret sauce” is revealed and other companies can create their own forms of the drug. This gives way to the wave of generic forms that are far more affordable. And yet despite the benefits of more people having access to these medications one wonders whether longer extensions of protections might give way to faster discoveries of solution to our most horrible conditions.

Might eternal patent protection be better? Is it unethical to buy generic because in doing so we deny the “creator’s work” from receiving compensation? On strays away from this conclusion when details of profit are considered. Pharmaceutical companies are far from destitute and continue to discover important medications in spite of the loss of protection.

In the end, its humanity that charges forward. Despite the global spread of workers dedicated to finding solutions for a multitude of companies each works towards the common goal of fixing human ills. No matter the politics or legal details the scientists who toil towards progress do so not for their companies well being but for the unending war against our ills. Each battles for a better tomorrow and despite the details that come between progress and profit a greater tomorrow comes only by the grace of the brains and brawn of those concerned.

Perils of Purchase

May 22, 2014 Leave a comment

A magical thing happens when we own something. Having made the purchase using our own money we’ve personalized the experience. This is why the computer from the employer is “junk” and why the dinner from a different cook just doesn’t taste the same. When we do it ourselves we place our skin in the game: we personalize the experience or item by connecting to who we are. Our purchases are extensions of who we are: they demonstrate a decision we have made or a preference that reflects who we are. Marketers know we do this and utilize brands as extensions of personality. Are you a Pepsi or a Coke person? Is it Apple or PC, Android or iOS?

Falling victim to the game of branding creates a paradox of experience. Though trying to express our individuality in our purchases we end up subscribing to massively popular brands. We work to select the item that best reflects our personality or that most closely matches our perspectives on life. A certain type of character is connected to brands. Technology companies are particularly skilled at creating cultural connections for its users. Are you an “Apple person”, the ad might seem to suggest. Ultimately our attempts to be unique leave us blandly like the rest. The only way to truly be unique is to build it all ourselves. Program your own operating system and manufacture the hardware in the basement. Work to escape the brands and perhaps you can be unique. Of course this is impossible. Brands are popular because they’re easy to engage with and embrace.

Imitation Simulation: Jerseys, Cash and Who?

January 31, 2014 Leave a comment

Endorsed as an “authentic replica”, an athlete’s jersey is expensive fabric gold. Part gem of memory and portal to a hero, it is a piece of clothing defined through multiple points of meaning. “Did he wear it in the game?” If so its value is far greater. “Is it dirty, bloody or torn?” Such tarnish is not filth: one might see that blood as liquid, reddened gold.

These jerseys are replicas of those worn by professional athletes. Not simply generic, standard issue, they come with the name of the athlete labeled on the back. One is “buying the player’s jersey”. What purpose is there in wearing another person’s jersey? Does John Doe, wearing Lebron’s jersey work to imitate LeBron?  Is it support or something deeper?

Jerseys that are endorsed by the NBA or the specific team hold a certain level of credo. What’s marketed as “authentic” is a realistic imitation of those worn in the game. Maybe the fabric is similar or the graphics are exactly as the team desires. These jerseys are expensive; though, and imitation jerseys, not endorsed by either group, exist and sell for far less.

What do we make of these “imitations of imitations”? Do these fakeries work to destroy the market? If any jersey works than why buy the best? Is it to support the team? One would provide more assistance in buying the imitation jersey for much less and mailing the difference to the team.

Staling Aura

November 2, 2013 Leave a comment

Let me play a recording from 1961. Will you know its not from 1991? Assume you do not see me drop the vinyl on the record player or thrust the VHS into the VCR- would you know the era of the work of art? Certain arts are dated by the medium of production. A recording from the 1960s sounds like its from the 1960s. You can see the age of movies in their very nature. Though the story line is common, the date of a production informs our reading of a text, film, or song.

Walter Benjamin’s “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction” considers our relation to art when it can be copied. If the gift shop sells a post card of The Mona Lisa, can we just skip the original and hit the cafe? Benjamin thinks not- he asserts an “aura” surrounds the original. An initial creation exists as something more than just an object. A painting is more than just some paint on canvas or the ideas suggested in the medium’s arrangement. The work is many things: a document of artistic creation? A historical document or record? This list is truly endless: art can be anything and everything.

Despite this ambiguous existence the work of art itself suffers from its means of creation. Media decays and technology evolves to place a work of art in history. As the work ages we gain a sense of how old it is. When the painting falls to shreds does Benjamin’s suggested “aura” become depleted? The Smithsonian Museum in Washington DC displays the flag that inspired Francis Scott Key to pen the Star Spangled Banner. The flag is highly tattered from its age and experience but is its aura affected? In the end it is the viewer that invests this flag with meaning. Might our flag, draped carefully from the garage inspire similar feelings from Key? Is it rather the battle or the moment that inspired Key?

When In Abscence

October 1, 2013 Leave a comment

A daily norm of behavior brings one into a routine of appearance and performance. You arrive at your job, do your work and leave for home. This cycle of function works to justify one’s existence. Don’t appear and the cycle is broken.  Suddenly one’s absence provides an opportunity to think again. Don’t appear and a new paradigm opens in your absence. “If he’s never here then do we need him?”

Adjustments take hold and suddenly the adjustments made to accommodate one’s absence become routine. A great hazard comes in simply not showing up. It’s often claimed that “showing up is half the battle” and indeed we can learn quite a bit from this simple phrase. People put a lot of value in the physical appearance of another. While one might be completely useless or even damaging to a situation, the sheer fact that one appears has a power to it. The act of “making an appearance” is one of the most useless, but viable evaluation on our society.

We might consider the very construction of this “making an appearance” phrase. Unpack it to see this verb of “making”. What are we creating when we appear? It is merely a physical existence in an organization? Is it merely a presence or actor playing a role that is developed.

Don’t appear and we learn to question your value. If you go away for a day we learn to work without you. Time’s progression creates a snowball of conundrum when one is not around. Oddly one’s best defense against dismissal is to simply show up. Even if one’s work is completely trivial the mere physical presence allows one to appear to be important. One may be an unused gear or even a detrimental part the machine but simply being part of the engine provides a basis to exist.

Self-Referential Reverie

August 13, 2013 Leave a comment

In this New York Times article, Edward Snowden refers to himself using the word “spy”. Such self-reference comes after others have worked to label him with their own loaded terms. These terms run the gamut of hero to villain: sometimes “Whistle blower” sometimes “traitor”, the actions of Snowden inspire a very mixed public reaction.

President Obama referred to Snowden with a reference to his age, remarking that he wouldn’t respond to a “twenty-nine year old hacker.” Whether Snowden’s age has anything to do with his actions (is he symbolic of some generational perspective on patriotism?) remains unclear. What we do know is that Snowden sees himself as a spy and in referring to himself we gain a sense of what it is he hopes to accomplish.

What can we make of this term “spy”? The article also includes comments from Snowden demeaning popular American media in the aftermath of the attacks of 9/11 and casts himself as public advocate. Based on his comments, he seems to feel he is the “white hat” spy in this game of cat and mouse. He seems to view himself as the hero in this escapade and the general public his victims to be saved. Oddly this remains a fantasy of Snowden- while nervous from what his “leaks” have revealed, the general public has responded with a very mixed reaction. Some see him as a hero while others see him as traitor and while we cannot know what will come from what he has revealed, we can learn a great deal from how he refers to himself and what it is he feels he’s doing in doing what he’s done.

Beyond Apology

June 21, 2013 Leave a comment

Certain individuals achieve a heightened level in society that renders bad deeds beyond apology. The Celebrity X whose racial epithets become public or the popular singer whose demands appear monumentally selfish. These are the figures whose fall comes just as fast as their rise: born via media attention they fall away in flames as the very beast that allowed them platform falls away and leaves them desperate.

Unfortunately the skills that give birth to additional attention do not provide the ability to control message. Celebrity X may write a great song or cook a great dish, but if he or she cannot control behavior than very little remains safe. Protection comes cheap in a world of public attention and a citizenry fascinated with a rapid rise is just as entertained by a rapid fall. The flames that kiss so often burn to ash.

When an individual achieves celebrity status, he or she transcends their human form and becomes a symbol. Is the Celebrity Chef really a human being or is her existence less about who she is and more what she brings to those who give her platform. Comedian Marc Maron often simplifies the process of celebrity making as essentially determined by a single question: “Have you made me money?” Those that do are granted attention because they provide the source with profit. Advertising runs media and anyone who fails to provide this capital or tarnish a networks ability to profit risks annihilation.

When the celebrity does violate the brand and his or her image has been destroyed there is little that remains. Damage to one’s reputation is damage to the brand. The Celebrity Chef may try to apologize but her position has been eliminated. She has violated the image and tarnished brand. Try though she might she has little left to save: the meals been burnt and her tables long been cleared.

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