Columbus, Eclipse, and Used Car Negotiations

“Now there’s a girl who gives the word ‘hippy’ a whole new meaning.  Move over, Mama Cass!  Move out of the way, sweetie.  You’re blocking my light.  Is it an eclipse?  No, Edwina’s in the room.” – Absolutely FabulousDSC04293

This is the dolphin that Bonnie Raitt Tyler will ride when she sings “Total Eclipse of the Heart.”

On March 1, 1504, Christopher Columbus was in the middle of really difficult negotiations.  Columbus was looking for the native inhabitants of the island we now call Jamaica (I believe they called it “home”) to provide him free food, and work for him in repairing his wormy old boats day and night.  In return, he was offering nothing.

Not a great negotiating position.

Columbus did have one advantage: he carried an almanac with him, and knew that there was going to be a lunar eclipse.  A lunar eclipse is really valuable if you have no idea where you’re going (or even how big the world is) like Columbus.

Why?

During a lunar eclipse, as long as you’re on the night side of the Earth, you see the Earth’s shadow start to block the light from the Sun shining on the full Moon.  And that happens for everyone at the same time – even if you’re in London, or in Spain, or in . . . Jamaica.

And that’s valuable, since, clocks in 1504 are really crappy.

It’s really easy to tell how far north or south you are on the Earth.  You can measure with just a quick sighting on a star.  But telling how far east or west?  Not happening, unless you know what time it is.  And since you know EXACTLY when the lunar eclipse starts, you know, at that point, exactly what time it is.

Knowing that, you if you measure the time from the eclipse to dawn, you know exactly how far east or west you are.

But Columbus had a different plan.  He told the natives he was going to take away the Moon, or, rather God was.  He made a big deal of praying.  When the Moon was in shadow, Columbus knew exactly how long the eclipse was going to last – and it was a really tense 45 or so minutes that Columbus timed out with an hourglass.  Tense for the natives.

Columbus said he’d prayed, and then told the natives that, hey, God was gonna put the Moon back in the sky.  But you’d better help us out.

Don’t make God angry.

The native Jamaicans complied, since if you’re negotiating with really no bargaining power, it’s nice to have a full range of supernatural powers at your disposal . . .

But that was a lunar eclipse.  And the eclipse that’s going to hit Monday is a solar eclipse – the Moon will totally block out the Sun only for a thin, moving swath of the United States.

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But, this is a Friday post, and it’s really supposed to be about health.  So, how do you combine health and the eclipse?

Don’t stare at the Sun.  See, that was simple.  But on Sunday every news story will mention that.  And Bonnie Raitt Tyler.  Who will be droning about wanting Bright Eyes to turn around in some boat somewhere.

I swear, this is the creepiest video every made.  Altar boys with glowing eyes flying through the air?  Check.  Conan looking dudes with furry loincloths?  Check.  Bonnie Raitt Tyler.  Check.  Yeah, creepier than Ozzy singing “Bark at the Moon” in Illinois during the eclipse.

So, don’t stare at the Sun.  It’s not that hard.

Well, kinda?  Isaac Newton, the scientist who formulated the laws of motion, of optics, and who invented calculus just to disprove a baseball trivia question about the infield fly rule, once stared at the Sun with one eye until he could only see reds and blues.  His eye recovered, but he experienced after images for months.

But even though the Smartest Man Who Ever Lived got better, I wouldn’t bet on you getting better.  There was even story about a guy who, since 1960-whatever, was still blind in one eye from staring at that eclipse back when Kennedy was still chasing starlets.

And there’s no reason for it nowadays since large numbers of eclipse glasses were/are available for free, or for a buck or two if the library is somehow toxic to you.  Unless you buy fake ones, which the news also seems to be upset about, or maybe the journalists are just reaching for something.  Nah.

Hint – if they spelled ‘eclipse’ wrong on your eclipse glasses and you can see your living room at night through them, those are bad signs.

I think that China has been preparing eclipse glasses for us since February 26, 1979, so they really are/were everywhere.

February 26, 1979 is the last time that a total eclipse passed over even part of the US.  Where I was at the time was only 83% covered, but, for some reason, I got sent to the office (which required me to go outside, since the art building was kept at a reasonable and safe distance from the main building) during the eclipse.  Since school administrators didn’t want to have to explain the whole “entire school is blind” phenomenon that might accompany a middle school during an eclipse, all of the classes were kept in session.  It was weird being out there, alone, even when I wasn’t under the path of totality.  The light was . . . different.  And, yes, I snuck a peak at the Sun.  Quickly.

If you’re under the path of totality (and only during totality) you’re okay to look straight up.  Pull off the glasses and enjoy the cool day as the Moon completely obscures the Sun’s healthful yet deadly rays and the stars peak through the day.

But that’s not the only health challenge on the day of the eclipse.  At least one group is claiming that a rogue planet, obscured only by the Sun’s healthful but yet deadly rays, will smack straight into the Earth during the eclipse.  What a coincidence!  What are the odds!  I’ve heard of being late, but it’s over four years since the world ended the last time in 2012.

I know, it seems unlikely, but you have to admit that one planet smacking into another at fifty miles per second would probably be a day where there might be some larger, “being crushed by a rogue planet” health problems showing up.  I imagine school bus routes would even be delayed the next day.

But, there might be a small chance that you can take advantage of the eclipse.  Let’s say you’re negotiating with the most poorly informed car salesman in the United States on Monday in Salem, Oregon who has NO idea that there’s going to be a total solar eclipse.

At 10:18AM Pacific Daylight Time, that’s when you should start with the hardball negotiation on that used Hyundai®.  Tell him you’ll bring back the Sun’s healthful yet deadly rays if he gives you a free fill-up.

Worked for Columbus.

Note:  John Wilder is not even a TV Doctor. DON’T STARE AT THE SUN!

 

Von Mises, Human Action, and Internet Cats

“Oh, king eh? Very nice. And how’d you get that, eh? By exploiting the workers. By hanging on to outdated imperialist dogma which perpetuates the economic and social differences in our society.” – Monty Python and the Holy Grail

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The Mrs. took this picture when we visited San Francisco to see the renowned economist Ludwig Von Miller. 

Economics has been called “the dismal science,” which, really only contains one lie (hint, economics is “dismal” but economics is not “science”).  Much of the pain and suffering felt throughout the twentieth century, and continuing to today is the result of a clash of economic systems – Marxism and state-sponsored capitalism.  Marxism has huge numbers of supporters, which I could understand if it were the Marx Brothers, but in this case it’s the “starving while the economy burns” type of Marxism.

Capitalism, strangely, is much less popular.  One of the key proponents of an open, market economy was the Denver Bronco® football player, Ludwig Von Miller.

LUDWIG VON MILLER

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Von leads the league in quarterback sacks and in economic theory.

Okay, that’s not really true.  The economist in question was Ludwig Von Mises.  He was Austrian, and is credited with a fairly rigorous study of economic theory, but, like most economists, really sucked at playing defensive end.  Also like most economists, Ludwig takes a good twenty pages of material and stretches it into nearly a thousand pages (more in some editions) of his book “Human Action.”  You know me – I’ll get you a superficial look at the good parts pretty quickly complete with cat illustrations.  There is no way I can recommend that you buy a book where the STUDY GUIDE is nearly 400 pages.

One of the things that economists miss is that people are human, and are not constructs that follow equations in the choices they make.

I recall back in macroeconomics class in college, the Hungarian teacher was attempting to explain the concept of utility, using pizza and beer.  If beer were cheap and pizza were expensive, he reckoned, you’d buy a lot of beer and not much pizza.

I had to nod at that point.

He then pointed at the other end of the graph where beer was expensive and pizza cheap and pointed at me, “Zo, if you ver goink to buy pizzas, at zis prize, how many vood you buy?”

John Wilder:  “One.  That’s all I can eat.”

Professor:  “No, ze equation zays you vill buy twelve!”

I think I got a “B” in that course.

But the thinking was wrong – pizza is no substitute for beer, and people act for reasons that are generally unrelated to false mathematical quandaries on a chalkboard.  Yes, lots of beer.  No, only one pizza.

What About Human Action?

Von Mises looked at the picture differently.  His commentary was that each action taken by a human was an internally consistent, rational act that followed some pretty simple rules.  Ludwig said that there were three necessary preconditions to any Human Action.  And, as a true economist, I will do it with the aid of Pusheen Cat, the wonderful creation of Belton and Duff (LINK):

  • There has to be a vision of a better state. This created the necessary fuel for action.  You have to see a state that’s better than where you are now.  Pizza nearly always meets that goal, unless I’ve just had pizza.

pusheenpizza

  • There has to be a path to get to the better state. Even if it involves riding a unicorn.  Or being a unicorn.

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  • There has to be belief that your action will result in the outcome, and that by becoming a unicorn you can get that pizza.

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Otherwise?  Unless you can see a path you won’t do anything.  Especially if you have don’t have a vision of a better state.

lazypusheen

What is satisfied?  You don’t see a better state than the one that you’re in.  Sounds almost like either you’re Self-Actualized (LINK) or you just ate pizza.  Satisfied is a particular condition where you’re okay with everything.  If you look at most advertising (and most social websites (LINK)) you’ll see that companies spend billions of dollars annually to make you dissatisfied with your life, with the big solution being that you can spend your money on their stuff, or in the case of Facebook® you won’t be satisfied unless you see the number of “Likes” that you’d like to see.

And these three conditions for Human Action can come in any order.

It can be Belief-Vision-Path, Path-Vision-Belief, etc.  When I think about some really successful people I know, they got better at their own skills (which makes the path easier) and then finally had their Vision of what they wanted to do, or even just stumbled into their Vision because they found that place they needed to be.  Other people develop the Vision (talkin’ bout you, Elon Musk (LINK)) and follow it through until they’ve created a changed world.

But, John Wilder, is there a Practical Application, or are you Naval Gazing?

But there’s a critical stopping point:  absence of any one of the conditions just stops action dead.

I recall one time I used Von Mises as a business analysis tool at work:

I was in the middle of a project that required cooperation between groups of contractors spread across the country.  The professionals I needed were spread out (literally) among the dozens of states.  And they weren’t producing.  One centralized group was producing about ten times the amount of work per person that the other groups spread all over the continent were producing.  And while being in Arizona might make you lazy, it wouldn’t make you that lazy.

I got on an airplane to go and visit the headquarters of the contractor since walking 500 miles would just take too darn long.  I interviewed the employees working on the project, and, while they understood the project vision, and saw a clear path to get to it (by working on the project) they also didn’t believe that working on my project would help them.  They believed that if they were working on my project, that they’d have to neglect their current customers.  If they neglected their current customers, when my project was over, someone else would be serving their steady customers when they finished my work.

They had belief, all right.  They believed that in helping me finish my project that they’d actually increase their chances of getting fired.  We centralized them for the month, and their management provided personal assurances that they wouldn’t get fired, and they managed to get the work done on time, I got a raise and a hot tub and new khaki pants . . . .

So, Von Mises provided a diagnostic tool for me to evaluate a real-life business situation, save my company over two million dollars, and get me several nice bonuses, since I had a real belief that failing would lead to my career being derailed.

So this Vision-Path-Belief Thing is Always Good?

No.  These three conditions also don’t require that what you’re doing be a good thing.

A heroin addict sees a better state with having heroin, sees a path to rob a house to get money to buy heroin, and believes that their action on the path will get them to that heroin.

Von Mises didn’t judge – just described the conditions required for human action.  People will be what they want – Stanford and marshmallows showed us that (LINK).

What about Marxism?

Marxism (except the Groucho kind) does judge.  It declares that people, at some point, somewhere, will overcome Von Mises’ laws of Human Action and do what’s in the best interest of the collective, regardless of their own best interest – From Each According to His Ability, To Each According To His Needs.  That might work in small groups like families, and kindergarten groups, and maybe even in bigger groups in the short run when the Vision (defeating Hitler and Tojo) is big enough, but besides that?  Not so much.

People work in their own interests.  And that’s okay.  It might be messy, but, in general, it leads to the greatest freedom for the greatest number of people, huge opportunity, and tremendous innovation as people compete to create great stuff so they can have your money.

I’m just glad that Ludwig Von Miller got his strip sack against Karl Marx and made MVP at Super Bowl® 50, all while working on the implications of voluntary economic transactions on the credit cycle!

stripsackvm

Paleo vs. Primal vs. Atkins, Thermodynamics and A Calorie Is Not a Calorie

“In this house, we obey the laws of thermodynamics!” – The Simpsons

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The Boy during a Primal phase.  Brains are Primal, right?

What does a diet do?  There are thousands (if not millions) of different diet books in print, each with a new diet, and they appear nearly hourly.  Diet books, perhaps, due to sheer number density, might form an information black hole that sucks in all other books.  Even Dilbert (LINK).  Then I would be sad.

The purpose of a diet should be twofold – to produce optimal nutrition at a healthy weight.  And make no mistake, those shiftless British (LINK) have done a study of British medical records and determined that . . . it sucks for your health to be overweight.  Being fit and fat?  Probably (according to the Portuguese guy I accosted on the street while yelling about these results in a threatening monotone) a pretty little lie we tell ourselves.

Out of this vast galaxy of diets, I’m picking out five for further discussion and follow up with a description of what thermodynamics says about them.  I pick these because they seem to be the main pattern of diets today:

  1. Vegetarian/Vegan: No one actually does this, but there are millions of people professing to like tofu instead of ribeye, and wanting you to have a meat-substitute brisket in the smoker.  And a vegan?  They will change any discussion that’s occurring in order to bring up the fact that they’re a vegan.

John Wilder:  “I hear that there might be life on Mars.”

Vegan:  “I hope it’s a vegetable, because I’m a vegan.”

It is my prediction that veganism/vegetarianism will catch on like wildfire when rare filet mignon and bratwurst are declared vegetables.  Sweet, meaty, fatty vegetables.

 

  1. Low Fat: Very popular in 1977 when your Mom took up smoking to impress that guy who had the cool Camaro®.  Still popular with the makers of sugar!, high-fructose corn syrup©, breakfast cereal®, and Pop Tarts™.

 

Oh, and turkeys!  Turkey bacon, turkey burgers, turkey cheese, turkey sour cream, and turkey mint julips.  Everything that’s come in about this diet indicates that it’s wrong on every possible level, including being responsible for Angela Merkel’s haircut.

 

  1. Paleo: The basic theory is that the human digestive system has simply not caught up to agricultural life, unlimited Twinkies®, unlimited couch time with Halo 47©, and unlimited calories.  Since our digestive system hasn’t come under significant evolutionary pressure, we’d be better off drinking elk blood in the forest.

The Paleo diet allows no: grains, sugar, beans, dairy, potatoes, processed food (I’ll miss you, dear bacon), refined vegetable oils, salt, alcohol, and good heavens, coffee.

That’s unnecessarily cruel!  No coffee?  What would I do for a personality?

A good website on Paleo is here (LINK).

Real short version?

2-0-1-7 tomorrow, out of time, so tonight we’re going to eat like it’s 10,099.

BC.

  1. Primal: A lot like Paleo, but recognizes the central role of coffee to my central nervous system.  Additionally, in comparison to Paleo, it’s more of a complete lifestyle, including exercising and having relationships like a Neolithic tribal dude.

The Primal diet is a lot like the Paleo diet, but you can have dairy, coffee, some potato, coffee, beans are okay-ish, coffee, and wisely chosen dietary supplements.  Did I mention coffee is okay?

The definitive website for Primal is here.  (This is also the definitive post.)

  1. Atkins® (or “keto”): Nuke the carbs from orbit, it’s the only way to be sure.  Lifestyle?  Who cares.    THE.  CARBS.  20 grams or less of carbohydrates in some phases of the diet.  Bonus?  Eat all the bacon.  And drink all the coffee.

How does a diet work to help attain or maintain a healthy weight?

First:  What’s a Calorie?

In nutrition, a Calorie is a measure of the chemical energy stored in food.  It has a specific scientific definition as being “the amount of energy required to raise the temperature of one kilogram of water by 1˚Centigrade.”  So, if you weighed 750 kilograms (more than 1,500 pounds), you just have to walk into a fridge and reduce your body temperature by one degree, and when you warm yourself up, presto, a cheeseburger vanishes from your thigh!

In reality, there’s enough thermal energy in 10 plain chocolate M&M’s® to raise a big cup of coffee from room temperature to a pleasantly hot 130˚F.  When I tried this experiment at home, the coffee stayed cold, but got chocolatey after a day or so.  Then moldy.  Then The Mrs. yelled at The Boy and blamed him for the mess.  Whew!  It’s great having folks who’ll take the fall for a fiver.

The way they determine the Calorie content of your food is (I’m not making this up) by burning it in a really sensitive oven and measuring how much heat it gives off.

But your body doesn’t spontaneously combust, no matter how many pancakes you eat, so I’m thinking that the body may have a tiny lit furnace someplace south of your stomach, except for Pugsley, since sometimes he smells like burning tires.

So, food is used differently than that, as I started to discuss in a previous (LINK) post.

One rule of thermodynamics (thermo, from the Greek, meaning “a class in college” and dynamics, also from the Greek, meaning “that came from Hell”) is that you lose efficiency every time you convert energy from one form to another.  In the conversion of food from chemical energy to useful human energy, fat (as in yum!) and carbohydrates (as in sugar, also, yum!) are about the same, requiring about 5% to 15% of the energy consumed to digest and use.  In the world outside of squishy human bodies, that’s exceptional!  A human body is 85% efficient when running on Ding-Dongs®.  A car is only 20% efficient when running on gasoline.  You’re super efficient!

That’s also why you’re fat.  I’m willing to bet the human body developed a craving for sugar and fat because it was so efficiently converted to “keeping you alive” that when you could expect to find very little food, you were drawn to the best stuff.

When you convert protein (also yum, as in the rest of the steak!) to energy, the pathway is much less efficient, converting 65% of the energy to useful activities, like typing and drinking scotch.  Still this is three times better than a typical gasoline powered car.

Like Justin Beiber, sugar has a much darker side – it spikes insulin output, which is required to get sugar into cells so it can get to work.   But insulin is also the hormone that, in abundance, tells your body, “Hey, back up the truck with all the energy you can’t use right now.  We’ll just turn it into fat.”

A recent JAMA (Journal of the American Medical Association, or Jamaican Ancestral Music Annual, I forget which) article says that people on ultra-low carbohydrate diets burn 100-300 more Calories per day than those same people on other diets.

I think Dr. Atkins just dropped his microphone and walked off the stage.

My conclusion is this:  The Paleo and Primal diets both restrict carbohydrates very effectively, but not as well as the Atkins diet, which is as single minded as a puppy on a pork roast in elimination of carbohydrates.

A potential optimum?  Use Akins to get to a healthy weight, then transition to Primal as a lifestyle.  Atkins is the journey, but Primal is the habit, and, of course, the lovely, lovely coffee.

Comments?  Your mileage?

Reminder:  JOHN WILDER IS NOT A DOCTOR.  Consult yours before following the patently absurd advice offered above.

Distraction and Action – The Internet and Your Brain

It’s very unusual for Michael not to show up to work. My guess, he’s either deeply depressed or an icicle has snapped off his roof and impaled his brain.  – The Office

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The Boy, praising the giant stone head which holds the entirety of the Internet, at an undisclosed location in Texas.

“The world wants to be deceived, so let it be deceived.” – Someone Dead, Probably a Roman

You have to be there to win.

You can’t achieve, or even focus, if not present. I’ll not define achievement or focus, you can probably figure out what I mean by those, but I will speak a bit about being present.

Being present is having your focus here, right in the place that you are at, and now, as in focusing on the present moment.  It implies both locality and attention.  If you are truly 100% present, generally there is nothing wrong with the world, no worries.  You are where you are, doing what you’re doing.

It’s been my experience that right now, at this moment in time, there are very few things that concern me or bother me to the point that it pulls away my attention.  The sun is shining, Pugsley is mowing the lawn with the push mower, The Boy is concocting a new app that combines AirBNB and Twitter (BedWitter) so you pay for your room rental with witty comments, The Mrs. is doing some work on a novel, and the pork chops are marinating on the counter prior to their encounter with the grill tonight.

So, in this moment in time, as Rainbow talks about a Man on the Silver Mountain (it’s a song), I sit and type in utter peace – I’m stuck here in the present, fully focused on the moment, and at this point in time, there’s nothing wrong in the world.  Well, my beer might be low, but I know where another one is.

The content on the Internet is evolving, and its sole purpose is to pull in more and more of your attention.  Why?  That’s what funds it.  It’s been that way for a while – media is funded by that which grabs your attention – good ratings=high attention and that results in more products like that.  But the Internet has allowed measurements that are to the millisecond – how long has your attention been taken, what did you buy later, what did you click on?  The technology exists today to understand who you are through a fairly small number of clicks, even on a browser you’ve never been on, and to understand what drives you are as an individual.  Maybe even better than you do.

What are the apps that do this very well?

You know them, and many of you interact with them daily:

  • Google – The big dog – probably knows what you’re going to search after a character or two. I was shocked to find out (in 2005) that a search on my work computer gave a different list than on my home computer.  Now, 12 years later?  I imagine each individual gets tailored results, by device and location.  Thankfully they’re not evil, right?
  • Youtube – I’m listening to music on it right now as I type this. And it picks the next song, so when I get in a writing haze, really focused on the work, seven songs that I love can blend seamlessly into the background, without me noticing.  And I get different Youtube content suggestions on my phone, because I listen differently on it.
  • Facebook – I’ll admit that this is an application that I’m not on, and it’s one I never really got. The Mrs. got on to promote her book, but I don’t think she uses it all that much.  But, boy, when I say I don’t Facebook I get funny looks.  It’s like I’m not exactly human, some sort of pre-technology throwback.  I figure if my friends want to talk, they’ll call.
  • Reddit – Been there, but it’s not even weekly that I visit. Good concept.
  • Twitter – This is one that seems to be the real wave of the future, but people can’t figure out how to make money owning Twitter – it’s like owning that kiosk where everyone puts up random notices. It would be way better real estate if you could get the hippys out.

What drives your behavior?

I hate to tell you, but the Internet is driven by your brain, specifically your amygdala.  Your amygdala is where your strong emotions come from, and the internet is evolved to stroke those emotions to get you to take action based upon what your amygdala wants:

  • Sex – This goes beyond porn sites, but also includes the sidebar ads on the sites you visit with girls in bikinis with a headline “You won’t believe what happened to the cast of Malcolm in the Middle!” It’s a primary psychological driver, and (really) has resulted in some of the most significant technological advancements in information technology, like streaming video.  You like YouTube?  Shake a porn star’s hand (but wear a glove, really).
  • Outrage – OMG! What did Trump do?  OMG!  Did you see what Obama did?  These sorts of stories are intended to drive you into an emotional frenzy, based upon something you care about.  Its stories like Cecil the lion that feed this side of the Internet, creating a frenzy that burns itself out when the new frenzy appears.  Just think about what Jimmy Kimmel is crying about this week, and you have a good idea what the latest frenzy is.  This outrage feeds your amygdala, and, let’s face it, sometimes you just want to fight.  (Hint: that’s your amygdala.)  The internet drives you (along with other people that think like you) straight to the fire so you can pour gasoline on it.
  • Trivia – The shear amount of information that exists on the Internet is enough to keep you swimming in it for hours if you let the current drag you away. Ever look up “Dogs” on Wikipedia and end up in an engrossing article about 17th century French bottle manufacturing techniques?  Yeah, me too.
  • Fear – Hacking at your brain – see the adds that say “here are the three things your doctor doesn’t know about the CANCER THAT IS EATING YOUR BRAIN RIGHT NOW” alongside a picture of a forearm that has hair on it.   Feeding your brain.
  • Envy – Facebook is awesome at this one – your friends don’t show you pictures of the monthly bills for that new Porsche®, but they sure do post pictures of the car. When living in Houston, I would be sitting at a stoplight and see a beautiful Mercedes pull up next to the Wildercar.  I tried to pull up a statistic about the number of new Mercedes that were bought with a loan.  I can’t find it now, so I’ll make it up – 87% of Mercedes purchased are bought by someone with less than a million net worth and they owe money on it.
  • Desire – Envy’s brother. See a nice bauble on Amazon?  You’ve lived your entire life without it.  But now it’s your precious, and you’re its Gollum.  Hint: avoid hobbits – it won’t end well.
  • Pride – You really want put that picture of you and your new Porsche© on Facebook. That’ll show ‘em!

So, essentially the internet has evolved to focus all of your presence and attention on the seven deadly sins.  And this is what we’re teaching the vast artificial intelligence that we’re creating.  And we’re feeding it with our behaviors and attention constantly.

It also dulls our sense of wonder.  On the Internet, you can see the best and most extreme of everything, all at your fingertips.  So, seeing a guy jump off a 25’ cliff into a pool of water below?  Yawn, but on the Internet, you’re staring at a little square screen that is where you are giving precious minutes of your life, but it’s so distracting!

Don’t get me wrong, the Internet is a truly amazing servant.  It provides great venues for learning, specific fact finding, this blog, comparison and quality shopping, this blog, low cost instant communication, this blog, real time storm warnings, this blog, long distance work collaboration and, of course, this blog.

On a recent vacation we stopped for breakfast at a Denny’s® (little known fact: La Quinta is Spanish for “Next to Denny’s”) and had to wait about five minutes.  As I scanned the crowd of other potential pancake patrons, I noticed that EVERY SINGLE ONE OF THEM (including parents) was head down in a phone.  Not a single person was legitimately present.

After noting the Wilder fam following into a similar pattern, I decreed a ban on cell phones at dinner.  They stayed home or we weren’t going to go out to eat.  Pop ‘em on the table, folks.  Likewise, at home, at dinner – nope.

Although I would dearly love for the family to take their phones into the hot tub, they leave them out.  So, dinner, hot tubbing, board games, patio days (going outside and just hanging on the patio all day) and cooking barbeque are all times where we have miniature Internet breaks.  The result I’ve seen is those are the closest and most genuine moments that we have as a family.  We’re genuinely happier when we cut out Zuckerberg and Brin.

But right now I just have to see what Chelsea Clinton said to Trump on Twitter®!

Chime in below on how you rule your brain in a world of distraction  . . .

Change Is Based On Emotion

Now, ironically, in astronomy, the word “revolution” means “a celestial object that comes full circle.” Did you know that? Which, if you think about it, is pretty funny, considering here on earth it means change. – Fargo (Series)DSC03299

Change sometimes comes best from the barrel of an anti-aircraft gun. (That’s The Boy, some time ago, as he weighs 190 pounds now (that’s 431 stone or 650kg).

In my experience, people are sticky.  No, not the “haven’t showered in two days in 105F weather and I just ate a runny ice cream cone and have no paper towel” sticky, but the “not going to change my habit” sticky.  Habits are sticky things, especially the ones that are bad for you.

Like tobacco.  Mmmmm.

It has been my experience that people experience lasting change for two (and only two) reasons:

  1. Extreme Emotional Impact – An extreme emotional event is one directly related to the behavior that results in change. And I mean extreme, not, “it’s snowing outside – I think I’ll lose 10 pounds.”
  2. Somebody Else Really Thinks You Should Change – This always works. Wait . . . this never works.

I guess that leaves one (and only one) reason that people change – Extreme Emotional Impact.

I have done a quick Google® search and have determined that most people who write about change on the internet and say that they have coached change, have probably never left their mother’s basement and interacted with another human being.  Some of their answers are awful.  A sampling of their “Reasons People Change’:

  1. They Have Learned” – No, sorry, as much as I like learning, it’s about as effective at changing habits as a newborn baby otter is effective at changing the oil in a 1980 Fiat Spider (hint, it’s an Italian car – you don’t change the oil, you just replace the oil that leaked out).
  2. They Have Suffered” – Good heavens, we have all suffered for years with the Kardashians. No change noted.  Suffering does not equal change, not even spare change.
  3. Tired of the Same Thing” – I ate the same hot ham and cheese sandwich for four years of high school. Well, not the same sandwich, it was a different sandwich, but it was the same kind of sandwich every day.  Change potential?  For me, not high.
  4. Want To” – The worst one so far. Everyone wants to change something.  Most of us never make any significant changes.    I “Want To” start a billion-dollar business.  Change based on “Want To” starts in . . . never.

There are more, dozens, and some are high-school term paper bad.  A couple of people, however, got close to the right answer (John Maxwell, Steve Aichison) but they used way too many words and are not nearly as cool as me.

In my years of watching and being a people, I have seen zero (nada, zilch, none, empty set) people have a significant change without emotion being the driver.  And by change, I don’t include changes that violate basic laws of physics, like pretending an amputated uvula is still attached.  I still miss my uvula, which I lost in a tragic ukulele accident at Camp Oconda back in ’03 while camping there with Thomas Edison and Henry Ford.

There must be an equivalence and proportionality between the emotion and the change being sought – a stubbed toe will not give enough emotional energy so you can heal your relationship between you and your cheese-eating sister.  A death threat is not generally required to get someone to turn off the lights as they leave a room (with the exception of Pugsley, who seems to like all the lights on).

Two years ago, a friend of mine didn’t show up for work.  A bit later, I heard that his boss had gone to see him in the hospital.  I saw him about two months later – he had lost about 30% of his body weight, and he wasn’t all that chubby to start with.  Turns out he’d had a heart attack, a triple bypass, and had taken the doctor very seriously when he said lose weight or die.  My friend lost the weight, and has kept it off.

His mood was great, too.  I imagine that when you survive a heart attack, the little things that used to bother you (like running out of Pez© on a Thursday when the Pez™ delivery man doesn’t show up until Friday) all of a sudden lose their power over you when you’ve been in agonizing pain and about ten minutes away from seeing if all those prayers paid off.  He has two young children, and I imagine the thought of leaving them orphaned is probably a kicker.

Even with an emotional event, another necessary ingredient is that you have to have a reason to change.  Doesn’t have to be a great reason, but you have to have a reason.  If my friend hated his life? Meh, another cheeseburger, please.

The significant change I’m personally most proud of came in January of 2012.  I decided I was done with tobacco, and was worried (based on looking at my gums) that I was doing real long term damage, like deadly, to myself.  (My dentist says it all looks mahvelous now, so, not an issue.)

It was emotional for me, and I decided I was going to quit.  Despite not liking my tobacco use, The Mrs. had never once asked me to quit.  In reality, that would have had the opposite effect, BECAUSE MY SOCKS CAN STAY ON THE FLOOR!  But I announced my intentions, and quit a day later. Five years ago.

Do I miss tobacco?  (EVERY SINGLE DAY.  EVERY MINUTE.  I LOVE IT.)

Maybe a little.

I love the smell of it.  I love the taste of it.  I love the feel of it.  If anyone ever tells me, “John Wilder, you have six months to live,” I am going to buy 500 gallons of it and fill my hot tub with it and bathe in the tobacco until I twitch like a poisoned cockroach.  I didn’t say it’s good for me.

But I don’t do that now.  I had my emo-moment (or is that an emo-momo?) one night when I really pondered if I was killing myself quickly, and decided to stop.

Emotion mixed with purpose, and it was over.  I’m done.  It’s a powerful combination.

If you look at the attempts that advertisers use (more on this on Monday) to get you to purchase Pez© or Matthew McConaughey’s sweat gland extract which he waxes about in his low monotone before going home to play naked bongos at 3AM, your emotion is their target.

Thankfully, though, I was able to use my own emotion to make the personal change.

And I’ve used emotion in the past to fire change that has been beneficial and healthy for me.

So, people are sticky.  And I know that applies to me, too, especially in July when I’ve just finished that ice cream cone and have no paper towel.

Shake?

So, what’s your biggest change?  How do you deal with being covered in melted ice cream?

Talent Stacks

“She’s not a superhero; she’s a weirdo.” – Stranger Things

DSC01911Talented?  Hmmm, lucky if you ask me.  Except for The Hulk.  He’s got talent.

Scott Adams (of Dilbert fame) created the concept of the Talent Stack and wrote about it in his book How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big: Kind of the Story of My Life.  I have always enjoyed Mr. Adams’ work, and appreciate his sense of humor, but I think I like his unique ideas even more.  And this is an interesting one.

Talent

One way to be great is to have a singular talent that nobody else possesses, like, Keanu Reeves.  Keanu is the most talented person on the planet earth, because?  His talent is literally and only “Being Keanu Reeves.”  Neo in The Matrix and Bill in Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure?  Same dude.  But Keanu also doesn’t age due to a pact he made with an old gypsy woman on a mountaintop in 1643 in Bulgaria, so that has to count as a second talent.  But we’ll pretend that doesn’t exist for now.

Bulgaria or not, you will never be Keanu Reeves.  (Unless it’s you, Keanu!  Hi!  It’s okay for you to be you!)

Talent Stack

Let’s take a second person.  Say, Peyton Manning.

Peyton has multiple talents – he’s tall, like 7’8”.  In his prime he could throw a football adequately, but never the best in the league.  He had a talent (built up out of long practice) of being able to understand a defense and what opportunities it provided his offense.  He could also lead a team on the field.  He ran, however, like a burning stork being chased by Hillary Clinton.  Pretty slow.

Was he world class in any of these talents?  Not really, but probably pretty close in his understanding of the whole offense/defense thing.  His talent stack made him great.

In Mr. Adams’ thought, in order to be great, you don’t have to be great at everything, you just have to be adequate at a bunch of little things.  It helps to be great at some, but it’s not required.  Here is his analysis of Donald Trump’s talent stack.

I tend to take this analogy in a slightly different direction – as an individual it’s horribly hard to compete against a big company.  Let’s pretend you want to duke it out, toe to toe against Google®.  You might be an awesome programmer.  But in order to compete you have to also be an awesome marketer, accountant, leader, financial wizard, and about a hundred other things and there wouldn’t be any you left over to eat Pez®.

Where I Throw In One Too Many Football Analogies

One more analogy – if you have a football team that’s all quarterbacks and defense with no other offensive players?  You’re not very good (sorry, Houston Texans™).  That’s a horrible talent stack.  So, not only do you have to have adequate talents, you have to have the right talents.  The Patriots® don’t have the best at, really, any position.  Tom Brady is a decent quarterback, but the year he was out injured?  The number two guy did just as well.  And when they traded him?  Umm, I think he’s a beet farmer in southern North Dakota.  That team regularly transforms mediocre players into a championship roster.  They cover all of the positions adequately.  Oh, and occasionally they cheat, which is a talent all in itself.

My theory? A talent stack in a single person is exactly like teamwork in an organization.

So, while acknowledging that it’s impossible for me to be Keanu Reeves, I will say that it’s not impossible for me to be wildly successful with a decent talent stack.

What kind of talents fit in a talent stacks?

Most attributes a human can be good at.  Piano.  Chess.  Necromancy.  Running.  Eating a Slurpy©.  Knowing how much cheese to put in a bowl of chili.

And most talents are talents that most people can be adequate at, with a bit of work and practice (with the exception of the cheese/chili ratio).  And if you’re not good at them?

But they can also point out areas where you have crucially missing talents.

The downside of this, for stupid people, is the Dunning-Kruger Effect, whereby people that are too stupid, are too stupid to realize how stupid they are.

The study was inspired by the case of McArthur Wheeler, a man who robbed two banks after covering his face with lemon juice in the mistaken belief that, because lemon juice is usable as invisible ink, it would prevent his face from being recorded on surveillance cameras. (Wikipedia)

I suspect it’s also similar for people who have glaring deficits of social skills as well as cognitive skills, but being as socially adept as I am, well, I certainly wouldn’t know.

Where to Get Better

I really do think that the biggest returns you can make are when you work on your best talents, as long as the basics that you need to cover are covered.  You probably don’t need to be a great accountant at your small business, unless your business is accounting.  (Then you probably need to be a great accountant.)  Imagine, if you will, if someone told LeBron James that he should spend more time on math.  That would likely have been a waste, unless LeBron could improve his jump shot by using differential equations.

So, to summarize:

  1. Talent – Having a strong talent will take you places, unless the talent is eating Doritos©. Then I can’t really help you.
  2. Keanu Reeves – Doesn’t age. And makes movies based upon being Keanu Reeves for a living.
  3. Talent Stacks – It’s like having Multiple Personality Disorder, but with much more profit.
  4. Singular Talent Vs. Talent Stacks – It’s like being a dentist vs. winning the lottery. Be the dentist.
  5. If You’re Stupid – No real hope for you. Enjoy the lemon juice.  And the prison.  Please don’t have kids.
  6. Talent – Is probably not enough for you. Or me.  Or anyone but Keanu.
  7. Talent Stacks and Team Work – Similar to each other.
  8. Where to Focus – On what you’re good at, as long as that talent is useful.

So, my talents?  I like humor, can math, like to write, and I generally show up to work on time.

What about you?