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On humanity….

January 19, 2014 Leave a comment

Bernard Moitessier set out to on the first race sailing single handed, non stop around the globe.  It is most likely that he would have won the race if he had not, upon reaching the Atlantic, forfeited the race and turned South to head back around again.

Mooring in Tahiti and watching the development of the island, he writes:

          Lots of people believe that the bulldozer and the concrete mixer don’t think.  They’re wrong: they do think.  They think that if they don’t have any work to do, they won’t earn any money, and then their slaves won’t be able to buy the fuel and oil they need to go  on living and go on thinking serious thoughs.
          They think human beings are pretty retarded, still making their babies in joy and love and pain.  Their procreation technique is much more efficient: they work flat out without ever getting tired, and taht means profits, and their slaves hurry to make more bulldozers and concrete mixers which are born fully grown, ready to work without wasting a minute.  And what they think really had is they had better hurry up and get the robot age going before man catches on.                                                                                            (The Long Way, 1971)

Who runs whom?  Do we run our technology? Or does our technology run us?

Metric echoes this idea in “Handshakes”:
Buy this car to drive to work
Drive to work to pay for this car

Inflation of high school marks: A false economy

February 12, 2013 Leave a comment

The system of education in Canada has put tremendous pressure on students.  Greater numbers of students flood post secondary institutions in hopes of gaining the requisite qualifications for a job in a particular field.  These post secondary institutions base their acceptance almost entirely on marks (though some also require supplementary essays and letters of reference as well).  The sole focus of senior high school students is marks.  They NEED them to continue their educational journey in hopes of a good career.  The sheer number of applicants to a program means that the minimum averages for a given program become inflated and students need higher and higher averages to even be considered for these coveted spots.

This crucible is exaggerated by the fact that astronomical averages can be bought at private schools, affectionately termed “marks mills”, by students who are known to their day school teachers not to have the skills and abilities to attain them via conventional public schools where teachers feel some moral duty to uphold academic standards.

Ironically, it was the Canadian Universities who fought for Full Disclosure Transcripts of students coming out of high school, which provided them with not only the top 6 marks of the student, but all of their marks from grade 11 and 12 as well as the number of times they have retaken a course to improve their average.  However, these same institutions have continued to accept the marks issued from dubious institutions, further perpetuating this situation.

Moreover, it seems that completion of a post secondary program does not mean what it used to.  Recent grads face staggering unemployment and underemployment.  CBC Doc Zone aired a documentary entitled “Generation Jobless” where they investigated the fact that Canadian post secondary institutions continue to graduate students despite the lack of demand.  This is most apparent in the number of Ontario graduates from Teacher’s College.  Perhaps the colleges and universities simply are not interested in what happens after their program ends, preferring to enrol students, put asses in seats, and laugh all the way to the bank.  The result is a population of young workers deeply in debt, under experienced, over educated, and dissatisfied with their job prospects.

Such a system does students a great disservice.  Marks are not the end goal; skills are the true target.  Marks are theoretically the communication of how developed a students skills are.  However, when students focus only on the marks, and ignore developing their skills and understanding, they have missed the point.  And perhaps they are not the only ones.  What is the purpose of the education system if not to equip our youth with the abilities to succeed in the world?

Given what we know about the prospects of getting a job in today’s current market, it almost seems advisable for a high school student to drop out of school, get a job apprenticing or volunteering in a particular industry when they don’t have any financial burdens, gain valuable hands on experience,  and either work their way up or start their own company?  This way at least they are free from debt, have some money in the bank, and are seemingly no worse off than if they had spent all that time in the education system.

Choice: A Paradigm of Paralysis

January 27, 2013 Leave a comment

Most of us have been conditioned to believe that choice is a good thing in our lives, and that a wide breadth of choice will lead to greater personal freedom and therefore greater happiness.  To a limited extent this holds true.

Certainly the very core beliefs of Capitalism is that consumers should have the right to choose.  The result of this approach is that it creates a consumer driven democracy in which purchases are the ballots by which votes are cast.  In such a system a great responsibility lies in the hands of the consumers, though this power may be largely unrealized.

Social conscience, therefore, doesn’t rest in the hands of the companies.  This responsibility has also been downloaded onto the consumer–if the consumer didn’t agree, they wouldn’t vote for it.  At least this is what basic economic principles hold to be true.  (One must remember, however, that such theories also presuppose that consumers have “perfect knowledge” of the choices they are making, that is to say they are fully aware of all of the factors involved in their choice.  I dare say that is not the case)

Choice can be debilitating.

Consider chewing gum.  Likely we have all deliberated over the bevy of choices laid out near the cash register.  For discussion let’s say that there are 64 different flavours to choose from. Consider what choice you would make?  To make a truly informed decision, you would have to have tasted all 64 flavours.  Assuming you could distinctly recall what each one of those flavours was, you would now be in a position to decide.  It is likely, however, that you haven’t tried all the flavours and so can’t possibly know what you want.  So you guess.  After you have made your choice do you reconsider?  Do you wonder if there was another flavour which might have been even better?  How many other choices are made and then tinged by regret at the possibility that a different choice would have been more satisfying.

Consider the possibility that there were only three flavours of gum:  Blue, Green, and Red.  The choice would be much simpler and the likelihood of dissatisfaction would be drastically reduced, unless you’re like me and always choose blue despite the fact that green is a more pleasing mint flavour.

Chewing gum is a relatively simple task with only one variable: flavour.  Other decisions about more valuable purchases are much more complex with multiple variables and greater consequences for poor decisions.  It is overwhelming to try to make an informed decision about something like a camera and a computer if you are not already an expert in that area and fully understand all of the applications required for your use of the device.

Recently I bought a winter sleeping bag.  It took me nearly a month to reach a conclusion about the bag for me, and there were only three variables to consider: price, weight, temperature rating.  Agonizing over the decision consumed me.  How many hours did I spend pouring over websites and reviews?

This type of preoccupation with choices really inhibits our ability to act decisively.  It impairs our ability to move forward.  It is a modern mental paralysis.

 

Driving Fallacies and Traffic

January 10, 2013 1 comment

Many of us commute to work via highways or freeways–supposedly uninterrupted channels of traffic flowing smoothly to their destination.  The reality, however, is a often a nauseatingly congested, stop-go-stop sweaty barnyard of honking maniacs trying to make time on their morning commute.

There seem to be a couple of presuppositions that contribute in a big way to these flutserclucks.

FALLACIES:
1.  You are in direct competition with other drivers. Don’t pad your wilting ego with the disillusioned idea that you have ‘beaten’ someone who wasn’t racing you.  It’s not a race. There are no winners.
2.  Preventing 1 car, 2 cars or 15 cars from merging in front of you will get you to your end destination faster.  Once moving at proper highway speeds, the distance of 20 cars (let’s say 400 feet) will take only seconds.  Keeping one or two people from merging ahead of you can only save you tenths of a second.

TRUTHS:
1.  Slow downs (accidents aside) happen most often at points where two streams of traffic are forced to merge. 
2.  Your actions can affect the column of traffic behind you.  Slamming on your breaks or coming to a stop will cause the driver behind you to act accordingly.  This reaction can echo back through the column indefinitely (unless there is a gap large enough to buffer the following cars).  This is reason YOU have found yourself in an infuriating gas-beak-honk scenario for the last 15 minutes.

RETHINKING OUR GOALS WHILE DRIVING:
The goal of driving is to propel the vehicle forward.  Instead of measuring the distance to the traffic ahead, think about keeping the vehicle rolling forward.  Isn’t that what we pay those high fuel costs for?  Preserve that forward movement instead of rushing ahead to stop.  (Laws of Physics and Inertia teach us that starting the motion of an object is most difficult–maintaining motion, comparatively easy)  Maintaining a steady flow can be achieved by creating space between you and the traffic ahead.  This space will ‘soak up’ the erratic starts and stops of other drivers and allow you to travel at a constant speed.
These gaps in traffic will inevitably be filled by others, which is not upsetting once you realize that their action doesn’t impact you arrival time by more than a couple of seconds.

BENEFITS:
1.  Wear and tear on your car:  Stopping and starting is hard on your brakes and your vehicle, not to mention the fuel savings of maintaining momentum. 
2.  Wear and tear on your patience:  Changing your focus will do wonders for your mood and level of stress and road rage, making the quality of your experience that much better.  If you can’t be with the one you love, love the one you’re with.
3.  Space to accelerate:  When you have space ahead of you it makes changing lanes much easier; you have room to accelerate so you can catch those gaps in traffic. 
Drive with an understanding of the fact that we are all connected. Our actions impact those around us.
Not convinced?  Consider the impact on traffic if you were just to stop in your lane, get out and walk away.

Honest advertising

December 19, 2012 1 comment

Lots of ads these days use all kind of methods to deliver a kind of propaganda.  What if there was an ad that was entirely truthful about the effects of that product?  Would we be in a position to accept it?

Perhaps the alien aspect of the commercial is a bit of a stretch, but is this scene not being played out in coffee shops around the world?

Einstein come true

December 19, 2012 Leave a comment

Albert Einstein.  Undisputed visionary.

“I fear the day when the technology overlaps with our humanity. The world will only have a generation of idiots.”

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“I’m spiritual, not religious”

December 14, 2012 Leave a comment

“I’m spiritual, not religious”.
Eric Hyde has a nice article on the delineation between spiritual and religious.

It strikes me that many who might utter such a phrase are reacting to the dogma of organized religion.  Erkhart Tolle’s book A New Earth really crystallized for me that religions hold many of the same values that those who consider themselves “spiritual” aspire to.  The corruption of this higher ideal, however, may occur when people shift their focus from enlightenment and understanding to ‘putting asses in the seats’.  The shift of priorities from teaching to merely filling a building, and thus a collection plate, may mean that the patrons of such institutions may not be as virtuous or spiritual as one might assume, as though there is some mathematical equation between holiness and time spent going through the motions.

It strikes me that the closer people get to being in touch with a greater force (The Force in a Jedi sense?)  in this world, the closer people get to recognizing that such a force might be called by many names.  Perhaps each religion is pointing to the same elemental force that is tangible and real to those who are aware of such a presence.

Consider the major three religions (as I understand them): Islam, Christianity, and Judaism.  Christianity and Judaism are quite similar–the old testament is the Torah; the difference is that Judaism doesn’t subscribe to the New Testament, and thus Christ as the son of God (though they do consider him a prophet).  Muslims beliefs are quite closely aligned with Judaism as well–they even share similar dietary restrictions.  Each of the religions tout similar values of kindness to one another and personal virtue.

Has it become a semantic debate about the name we assign to God?

What is in a name?

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