A friend sent me this link which is an episode of Rachel Madoow’s show that touches on the Budget protests in Madison, Wisconsin.

She breaks the issue down and shows that the budget issue is Wisconsin is not about a budget crisis but about the continued effective existence of the Democratic Party in this country. Her examples are extremely interesting, true and make a lot of sense when you look at the Republican Parties efforts across the country to control and submerge the rights of the people in this country who are hard workers, poor, or otherwise not worthy of their help.

Now that you’ve watched the video — what do you think? Did you go — as I did — hmmm now a lot of what they’re doing make sense. I too am as liberal as the come but I also see the dark in a lot of what is going on. I’m a skeptic about the efforts on both sides of that congressional aisle but this is the best explanation of what I’ve seen going on in Congress and across the country over the past 12 years.

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I got a link to this video today from a friend.  It’s on “The Future of Publishing”.    If you’ve been seeing the recent bru-ha-ha about ebooks and their various readers and the pricing of ebooks for consumers, it’s possible to get the impression that books and reading are a thing of the past.  Roll this belief in with the belief that young people  don’t read, have short attention spans and don’t know anything about the world around them .  This set of ideas and beliefs are what seem to be driving much of today’s marketing.

I enjoyed the video.  Using the  same message to express two totally opposite points of view is amazingly well done.  It feed into the widely held beliefs and then turns them on their head.

Publishing isn’t dead.  I’ve got a Kindle and I love it.  I’ve  also got tons of  traditional books. I say tons because in the last move we had more books in boxes to move than the total of all other items we moved from our apartment to our house.  I love reading and can’t imagine a time when I won’t read.  If my eyes fail me — I’ll get the Kindle to read to me with its Hawking’s voice (imagine having a great physicist read to you).

What is most likely to kill publishing is the unwillingness of the industry to move forward.  The world has changed.  They way people live their lives has changed and they need to change with it.  I’ll still read books on paper but the Kindle is what I take when I travel.  As a computer programmer/software analyst who has helped put together a book or two to be published — I know that an electronic books should not be priced more than a paperback.  There’s a big difference between making a paper-book only and then using the same file to create an electronic version and not having storage and distribution issues.

I had several books on my electronic wish list at Amazon until the pricing thing happened.  Now those books are too expensive.  I’ll buy them at a library sale or in a used books store.  Electronic would have been nice but I’m not paying nearly hardcover sale prices for an electronic book.  It’s the same reason I don’t buy DVD until they hit the below $10 sales (they should never cost more than $10 anyway). Corporations should make a profit off their work but since the creative artists aren’t the ones reaping the benefits of these too-high prices — it’s the must-make-even-more-profit that’s driving the bus.  People will buy your product but only when it’s useful, usable, and priced appropriately.  Otherwise most of us can find other ways to spend our money.

Companies should learn to listen to their customers.  You know the people who actually buy or are expected to buy the products you produce.  Listen and learn.

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Bumper Sticker: Orwell is right: Big Brother is watching you

When I saw this article on BoingBoing, I could not believe it.

Evidently, the laptops that students received from the school also contain software that allows school administrators to spy on them and their families. There is now a class action suit against the district because:

The issue came to light when the Robbins’s child was disciplined for “improper behavior in his home” and the Vice Principal used a photo taken by the webcam as evidence. The suit is a class action, brought on behalf of all students issued with these machines.

I find this creepy in the extreme. What is it with people who believe that they have the right to spy on others anytime they want. This is an invasion of privacy at the least, and child pornography on the part of school officials at the worst — since I’d imagine many of the students have the laptops in their rooms.

What’s even less appealing is that the school said:

The school district admits that student laptops were shipped with software for covertly activating their webcams, but denies wrongdoing.

NOTE: There are links in the BoingBoing article to the filings and letters and other documentation.

I’m just stunned that not only did some at the school spy on the students but that they don’t see anything wrong with this. There is no excuse for spy on the students at home. Even if there was a reason to do so, the school does not have the right to do so, since the parents are responsible for their children.

How can you expect to raise and educate children and young adults if you don’t even understand the basic principles of privacy, fairness, and respect. The school district is in the wrong and there’s no excuse for their actions and every adult involved needs some lesson in how to conduct themselves in society.

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Waking Life DVDIt was the blurb for Waking Life that got me interested:

Product Description
From Richard Linklater comes one of the most imaginative animated features ever made. This funny, ingenious film, which Rolling Stone Magazine calls “nothing short of amazing,” explores the fascinating question: “Are we sleep-walking through our waking state or wake- walking through our dreams”? Join Wiley Wiggins as he searches for answers to life’s most important questions in a world that may or may not be reality in the “most visually alive movie of the year.” (Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun Times)

It came from Netflix the other day and we just watched it this afternoon. This is one of those films that does take the term “weird” to new heights — but in a good way. Animated, the film has more options and scope for weirdness since so much can be done with animation at lower cost than with special effects and the directors used the media splendidly to highlight the thoughts being expressed by the characters.

A young man is returning home and gets a ride from a man in a boat-car that already has one passenger. From there things just get stranger. As we follow the young man around it seems like he’s working on a research project to gather various people’s viewpoints on consciousness, the meaning of life, religion, perceptions, and good vs evil, heaven vs hell. Then as things continue it seems that maybe he’s day dreaming or dreaming. The conversations and monologues give you the clues you need to determine what’s going on but they are buried in the discussions of various philosophies, psychological theories, and biological theories of consciousness and perception.

It may take a while to figure out what’s happening and even if you do there’s no way to be sure that what you believe is happening is in fact what is happening. I believe that’s the point of the film — to make the audience think. Think not just about what the movie is about but about the ideas that are expressed as our main character moves about the landscape listening to the people he meets.

I’m a child of the 60s and much of the intellectual theories and topics expressed are those that were bandied about during that era in the hallways of colleges, coffee houses, friends apartments, political meetings, and late night gab sessions where-ever. There were no answers then and I don’t believe there are or will ever really be definitive answers to the questions of whether we are the dream or the dreamer of the nature of consciousness and life.

This movie woke those memories of my past, those philosophy classes in college, and the late night talks with friends. So, whether I enjoyed the movie because of my background, or because I hope that these discussions are still occurring among today’s young adults — I do hope that many people are thinking about these issues and examining the life they are leading, not just to measure their success with yardsticks that have multiple scales that include personal growth, love, joy, friendship, connectedness to others, as well as financial success, control of others, and power. We should always live every moment as if it was special and never to be repeated because in fact each moment of our lives is special.

If you’ve seen this movie, I’d love to hear your opinion on it. If you haven’t seen it and enjoy movies that play with your head, check it out and get back to me and leave a comment.

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Focus! Organizing Your Time And Leading Your Life by David RendallI’m beginning to think all my life is about time. Time to work. Time to sleep. Time to play. Hours. Minutes. Seconds. Years. Decades. A lifetime.

All these small bits of time make up our lives. We treat life like it is infinite, but we all know there’s an end. Every minute is precious and not to be wasted. We know that and yet we waste so much time.

I find myself staring off into space. Not daydreaming. Daydreaming would be thinking, imagining things as they aren’t, but could or might be if only… An absence of consciousness — but not asleep either. Time has past and I don’t know where it went. I can account for the time but some is missing — so where did it go.

I’ve the flu — or a cold — I never know which because I always have the symptoms of both so I can’t tell. So maybe some of this missing time is because of the way I’m feeling but what about at other times.

Maybe you’ve had the same feeling when your coding and really into it — or writing or whatever you get very involved in. To me only a few minutes will have past, but my spouse will say it’s been hours are you ready for a break, and I check the clock and it has been hours …  but only minutes for me.

This blog seems like it’s really beginning to be about time — but that’s because I’ve been thinking about it a lot lately. Maybe it’s because I work at home — mostly alone without interruptions — so there’s no break-time or lunch-time or close-up-for-the-day-time. All time is work time if I don’t watch out.

How to other people perceive time? I wonder if other people miss time, find it passing quickly or excruciatingly slow or just as it should. What should our relationship to time be? I know it’s changed over the years with the invention of lights, the industrial revolution, the factories, and other imposition of time constraints by society.

I guess it’s always something to think about–time. What does it mean to me? What does it mean to you? How do you use it? Do you miss it? Is there enough for work, family, and play?

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W. Antartic Ice Sheet I usually keep my eye on global warming related reports and spotted these articles (Google News’s “Sea Rise from Antarctic Ice Melt Overestimated“, Christian Science Monitor’s “If W. Antarctic Ice Sheet melts, how high will sea levels rise?”, and Science’s “Ocean Science: Ice Sheet Stability and Sea Level” (link takes you to the abstract, you can’t read the full paper unless you pay) on the new figures for sea rise if the West Antarctic Ice Sheet (WAIS) melts.

Originally, it was thought that if the WAIS melted that sea levels would rise between 5-7 meters. However, that was based on models that just don’t seem to stand up in comparison to reality. So, once they started looking at the real world and comparing with the models they found that it was more likely that the sea level rise if the WAIS melted would be closer to 3.2 to 3.3 meters (depending on which report you read). So things aren’t as dire as scientists originally thought, although 10.5+ feet is still pretty dire. That’s still going to make drastic changes to the east and west coasts of the United States as well as some other countries.

You see sea level just doesn’t rise; it also runs horizontally. Most people hear that the sea level will go up a foot and they think that won’t bother me I’m above that level. Right, it won’t bother you directly if you’re above that level and not close enough to be bother with storm surges which can be much higher than normal high tides when pushed by a storm. But those people near rivers, streams, and in areas between the current sea level and the new one — even if they are inland — might find themselves having problems with rising water tables, water levels in streams and rivers, and now they sit in a flood plain.

If you look at a map with topographic markings you can see that areas that currently don’t connect with the sea, if the level rises a foot or a yard would suddenly be underwater. That’s the part of sea level rise that most people don’t think about and don’t seem to care about.

It’s the intellectual blindness that caused people to buy houses on the Mississippi between the river and the levees and never consider that the levees were there for a reason and maybe living between a levee and the river wasn’t a good idea. When the flooding occurred a few years back, I was really upset that so many people had lost their homes. Then I saw a live broadcast where they were talking to the homeowners trying to salvage whatever they could from the wreckage of their homes. The camera pans and there are the homes with the river on one side and the high levees on the other. Really, it was a matter of when not if they would lose their homes. I still felt sympathy that they had to go through this terrible experience but couldn’t stop thinking why didn’t they think about their situation logically before buying the home in the first place. People ignore what they don’t want to face. If there’s a levee and your home is between it and the river, that should be a “duh” moment and a no sale.

People have been ignoring global warming for years and now it is not just a nice little hypothetical thought experiment but is changing the face of the world. Still people hear about scientists discussing sea level rise and the possible factors that will effect the eventual change and what the numbers might be and they shrug and go on. Well, I won’t be buying any sea front property anytime soon but if I was I’d certainly be checking out topographical maps. Just maybe that house on the hill with lots of acres will turn out to be a nice private island in a hundred years or so.

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The Power of Positive ThinkingI’m not sure how we got on the topic but, while trapped in the car for some long driving as we ran errands today, Hyperion and I got to talking about positive thinking sort of as an off-shoot of wishful thinking being related to quantum physics (which is for another post).  Anyway, in kicking this topic around I began to crystallize some of my thoughts on it.

Most people have heard of Dr. Norman Vincent Peale’s book The Power of Positive Thinking. The basic premise is that if you feel good about yourself, good things will happen to you or come to you. This is also the basis behind The Secret by Rhoda Byrne where your positive thoughts are like magnets that cause good things to come to you. It’s also the basis for many of the books that instruct how to use your mind to concentrate on what you want and to have what you want come true.

But what I think is that by putting yourself into that place where you are concentrating on what you want, you begin to change yourself and your attitudes. From listening to some of the people who have read these books and dedicated themselves to following the various steps, there seem to be two types of outcomes. One is nothing much happens because they wish or think positively about what they want, but then they don’t do anything but wish or think.

However, the other group not only thinks positively, but they also begin to act in ways that cause the “good” thing/event to happen to them. They take a class in adult education, local technical school, junior college, or evening college courses, or go to the library and study up on what they’re hoping to gain — which is usually, better pay, a vacation, a promotion, or whatever. It’s the activities they are performing to aid them in gaining their goal that helps to change their attitude and gain them the abilities (concrete skills) that eventually gain them their positive outcome. It’s not just the positive thoughts beamed out in the universe; it’s the positive thoughts that are beamed inward that encourage the person to take their future into their own hands and make it better.

People don’t work in a vacuum.  They are worked upon by those around them. If others don’t think much of a person, that person internalizes that and acts accordingly, believing they aren’t worth much. If the other inflates a person’s ego, they also have problems when their expectations and their skills don’t match. However, if by focusing on a goal and then working to actually bring expectation and skills into alignment, their goals are often achieved. Usually not in the manner expected, but in a manner that, in retrospect, actually is what was wanted or needed.

On the other hand, people who simply sit and wish the good to come to them and never do anything to gain that change in their lives are bound to be disappointed and always looking for the next book that might have the key that actually will work for them — as long as they don’t actually have to do more than think about it.

My grandmother used to say, “If wishes were horses even beggars could ride.” This was usually whenever, I complained about wanting something but wasn’t actually planning to do any of the work to earn it. Yes, you need positive thinking but you also need good old fashioned work to reach the goals you set for yourself.

What’s your take on this?

Hyperion AvatarHyperion here:  I freely admit to being a total muggle; sometimes even Gayle despairs at my total disdain for the other-worldly.  For all the above post, there’s a fair bit of romance in her soul.  She may not depend on the magic to do job by itself, but that doesn’t necessarily mean there’s none out there.  She still has hope.   But, as for me?  “There’s no such thing as magic!”  That’s just the way I’m wired.   Well, there is one exception.  I think Gayle is pretty magical … but then I’m a bit biased, and the matter is not open to scientific inquiry.

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Brain Scan imagery

Many times in my life I’ve found myself out of sync with my friends, companions, family members, coworkers, or what have you.  Some times, I just shrug and let it go because it isn’t that important to me.  Other times, I’ll stick to my point — mostly I’ll stand pat if the issue is one that I feel strongly about — usually social or moral issues.  Other times I maintain my opinion but keep it to myself in order to avoid confrontations — I haven’t changed my mind I just don’t advertise my beliefs.

Well it seems from a CNN article Why so many minds think alike that our brains might be wired to bring us into conformity with our social groups.  The study in the journal Neuron, Reinforcement Learning Signal Predicts Social Conformity was performed by Vasily Klucharev, Kaisa Hytönen, Mark Rijpkema, Ale Smidts, and Guillén Fernáandez. (The study itself is not available unless you either have access to Neuron or purchase it.) The study summary says:

We often change our decisions and judgments to conform with normative group behavior. However, the neural mechanisms of social conformity remain unclear. Here we show, using functional magnetic resonance imaging, that conformity is based on mechanisms that comply with principles of reinforcement learning. We found that individual judgments of facial attractiveness are adjusted in line with group opinion. Conflict with group opinion triggered a neuronal response in the rostral cingulate zone and the ventral striatum similar to the prediction error signal suggested by neuroscientific models of reinforcement learning. The amplitude of the conflict-related signal predicted subsequent conforming behavioral adjustments. Furthermore, the individual amplitude of the conflict-related signal in the ventral striatum correlated with differences in conforming behavior across subjects. These findings provide evidence that social group norms evoke conformity via learning mechanisms reflected in the activity of the rostral cingulate zone and ventral striatum.

That phrase “prediction error” is explained by Dr. Klucharev as:

A prediction error, first identified in reinforcement learning models, is a difference between expected and obtained outcomes that is thought to signal the need for a behavioral adjustment.

Back in my psychology courses it was referred to as “cognitive dissonance”:

Cognitive dissonance is a psychological phenomenon which refers to the discomfort felt at a discrepancy between what you already know or believe, and new information or interpretation. It therefore occurs when there is a need to accommodate new ideas, and it may be necessary for it to develop so that we become “open” to them.

Hmmm.  It seems that, as humans, we don’t like to be outside the group comfort zone.  We want the others to like us and, sadly, we’re basically so insecure in our own opinions if they differ too much from those of the group that we’ll change our opinion to match the group.  So, to put it clearly — yes, if everyone else is jumping off a cliff, we’ll probably do it too.  Now parents have the answer to that age old question.

In this study, using magnetic resonance imaging to examine brain activity of their subjects, they could actually see the brain trying to cope with being out of conformity with their study peers in their grading of the attractiveness of people in photos.  When the subject’s judgment was out of line with the group’s they changed their scoring on a subsequent judgment of the same photo.

Summing up:

“The present study explains why we often automatically adjust our opinion in line with the majority opinion,” says Dr. Klucharev. “Our results also show that social conformity is based on mechanisms that comply with reinforcement learning and is reinforced by the neural error-monitoring activity which signals what is probably the most fundamental social mistake—that of being too different from others.”

We just might have a few problems with the way we do things.  For example, our justice system requires that juries be unanimous in their verdict.  What this study says is that even if a minority of people don’t think the majority is correct in their decisions, they’ll change their mind in order to conform with the community of jurors of which they are a part.  They’ll want to fit in.  Maybe we should have a system more along the lines of the Supreme Court where there is a majority and a minority report turned in to the judge.  Sometimes, there really isn’t enough information to make a determination but if the majority goes one way the minority will feel obligated to agree — might explain why some innocent people have been convicted of crimes they didn’t commit.

In my life, I have at times held true to my principles and been sneered at and later in time proved to have been right all along.  Of course, the flip side is that I’ve also been proved to be wrong some of the time also.  However, I’m willing to admit that I was wrong.  I’m also willing to change my mind when more facts show up that give me more data points to make up my mind on an issue. Some people, on the other hand, make up their minds and all the facts in the world can’t make a dent in their belief in their rightness.

However, conformity with the community has survival benefits.  If you fit in with your community they rally around you when you need help, they join together to assist in tasks too big for one person, and they support and protect each other.  Thus changing opinions to match the majority makes sense for survival and thus it seems it’s built in to us.

The problem is that change, growth, and innovation seems to come from those who think outside the box or move to the sound of a different drummer (notice that this week I’m really into these homilies).  So, maybe finding ways to accommodate those who have different views or who see the world differently — who don’t agree with the majority — should not be ostracized just out of hand.  Maybe these nonconformists should be looked at to see if their views are indeed “wrong” or “not like the others” or maybe these ideas/beliefs/judgments are valid in their own right but not necessarily the way we’d have processed that information ourselves.

This study has lots of implications — many of which could help to assist innovation and creativity, others to aid in adding fairness to our judicial and political system.  But more studies need to be done.  For example, I want to know if these same results would be seen when testing a similar group of men (in case you haven’t checked the original articles, the above case was performed solely on women).  Women have culturally been lead to accommodate others, to get along, to fit in and not make waves.  Would a similar study of men have the same finding?  I don’t know and until more studies are done with men and mixed gender groups there can be no plans for developing how to cope with this new information in order to increase the “good” of the community.

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