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I find life hilarious, really.

This isn’t the first time I’ve made that outrageous claim but I really, really do. I do so much that I want to write about it.

A random stroll down the street at 6AM each morning reveals yet another lovely little detail that our crazy synergy has produced. The reason that detail exists? Because we’re often too caught up with trying to comply with these imaginary rules that so-called society has imposed on us. Completely forgetting we’re what defines society we act certain ways around people, do little things for love and big things for money, and often forget who paid for the ticket to the joyride in the first place.

Taking a step back and realising just how comical it is for all these people to comply really opens up a lovely new perspective on things.

To use an example I’d like to talk about a daily (well, weekdays) activity – walking to school. I’m awake sharp at 6AM each day and up even sharper at 6:07AM. I leave at 6:40AM and begin the walk at 6:45AM most of the time. That’s about the point when I stop measuring things in terms of time (yes, it’s amazing not having a watch) and start measuring things in accomplishments and experiences.

It usually begins with trying to get my headphones out and plugging them into my phone. Occasionally I listen to a talk or music but most of the time it’s so that people don’t stare when I start playing the air-drum/guitar/trumpet in the middle of the street. Salute the guards at the guardhouse, tell them my schedule for the morning (you know, they’re paid to just sit there), and wink at the drivers having a chat downstairs. Pass the Japanese mothers and their little children confused between hyperactivity and morning sleepiness and then remember something I forgot to put in my bag.

Screw what I forgot, take a run down the road as a warmup and play chicken with the cars at the first junction (quite an easy feat, not many cars at that time). Exchange nods (and the occasional high five) with Azif the street cleaner and watch the stream of workers miling down the path. Try only to step on the red bricks and check how late (or even early, occasionally!) the bus driver is this morning – use the time until the streetlights extinguish since I don’t have a watch. By this time I’m about the chorus section in the piece of variable genre I’ve made up since winking at the drivers. By that time I’m also by the stretch of road that leads to the Plaza, an area with a few shops and a ridiculous architect who decided spurting water from a leak in the ground was somehow better than a magestic fountain and pond. More about that later, perhaps.

This stretch of road is great – it has everything. It’s got the sleepy 7/11 workers who accidentally set off their own motorcycle alarms, the rhythmic beat of the beginnings of a construction day (say, they have a legal start time don’t they?), the stray dog, the forest (well, close enough if you squint) to the right (lovely split image of nature/urban), the clouds saying hello to a new day, the taxi driver whom I’ve never seen in a taxi, the guard having a smoke behind the voltage box, and the cars realising they no longer need their headlamps. Oh, and the birds too, but they’re more noise than anything. and it’s a bahdum-tsh! Baam bah bah aahhhhh – it’s the climax of the song by the end of it.

Unless of course I see my business teacher walking to school too just ahead of me with his children. Then I just scare them silly by stalking them.

By this time we’re at the Plaza. Now we’re around people we can really have a laugh. You’d find at least a couple people sitting in the most unimaginably uncomfortable positions (well, they look uncomfortable, but you never know) in deep, deep sleep. You should walk through the McDonalds without fail each morning, not to buy anything, but simply because it’s half a minute faster walking through than around (I know, I timed it long ago). You want to know why the first hash brown of the day tastes like the sort of deep-friend chicken skin somebody’s left overnight? Want to know why the free newspapers pile is always empty? Want to know why McDonalds switched from ketchup packets to a self-service watchamathing? It’s hilarious.

Then you leap down the wrong escalator (they haven’t been started yet) and meet that security guard I’m almost sure is gay. It’s hard to tell because they don’t speak English very well (neither do I, apparently I’m told), and like most guards he spends most of his time loitering. Loitering with a purpose. However when you shake hands each day and he holds your hand for a bit too long and a bit too close you worry sometimes. But it’s ok because he knows my schedule better than I do at times and a walking agenda is a great tradeoff.

At this stage you get to the set of traffic lights where all the cars who realise that going around the back of the Plaza gets you to where you want at least 3 times faster than the only route that existed before which went for a lovely 3KM loop-the-loop just to get 500 meters away. Not to mention 2 more traffic lights. (honestly, what were they thinking?) Funnily enough you get parents dropping off children here because then you can skip another loop-the-loop when driving back. You also get your physics teacher’s retired husband taking his brisk walk around here. He talks to anybody else who’s white and about his age, and I don’t exactly fit that as far as I know.

The next stretch of road is great, because it features the 13 years consecutive winner of worst-traffic-jam award of the year. It’s great because you’re walking. It also means that in about 2-3 minutes you’ve got to end your piece because you’re about to arrive. In fact, now is the perfect time for an impulse run, to make people think you’ve actually run all the way from home in formal office-wear (and sometimes a green bow-tie, for that matter). (Note: this run may happen for any duration, and may start as early as 6:45) That doesn’t mean the fun’s over though, in fact it’s just begun. Stuffing 1000 adolescents with a P.E. teacher at the head in a school is a recipe for the perfect all-night comedy show.

Guys (and girls), keep ’em coming. You make my day, every day.

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The economics of technology

The long-term success of a company is caused by its people. The long-term success of a product is caused by the producers. Consumers are not the cause of success, they are a symptom of success.

That was the ideaology I got into a debate with my friend the other day. I was pro and he was con – mainly citing how the age-old laws of economics don’t simply break down in an industry and should be the be-all and end-all. I still disagree and have always believed there was something very fundamentally wrong with the whole science of economics. Before I continue I will have to admit that I’m not a fan of economics – you cannot put people on a graph. Even if you were dealing with statistically large enough numbers of people to create an average behavior we must still look to the very core of our behavior – why we do what we do.

A while back I told people why you do what you do – in a nutshell, every action you take is the action that you believe will cause yourself the most happiness, given the conscious or subconscious knowledge you have at the time. If being sad will make you happy – be sad! If you purposely choose to hurt yourself to prove me wrong, it is the satisfaction you gain from proving me wrong that gives you that happiness. If you sacrifice yourself for the benefit of others, it is because you prioritise the happiness of others, and following your belief will make you happy. If you choose to stab yourself, it’s because you believe stabbing yourself is the best thing you could possibly do (otherwise you would’ve have done it). This creates the question on whether or not “which” happiness is the best, but that’s a highly subjective question and thus we must leave delusion to a topic of its own. For this reason instead of referring to it as happiness I would refer to it as the “best”, to remove confusion as to the actual definition of happiness.

When applying this mentality to a society, it still doesn’t change one bit – and will never change no matter how large the sample. When looking at this from an economic perspective, for example in the labour market, we understand that people choose jobs because of this very same trait – and will not leave the job until the benefits of leaving are greater than the benefits of staying. For the factor of production enterprise, we understand that they take the risks and shape the market from what they believe is best. Capital and land are simply instruments of the former two and are therefore only tools that will accelerate the choices of the former two. When looking from the demand-side of things, we see that consumers purchase what they believe is the best to purchase – and it is empirically evident that their purchases will affect the choices of labour and enterprise.

However what I propose is that this influence is very much a short-term effect. If somebody invents a product, that product will exist as long as there is developer interest in the product. The greater the developer interest, the higher potential success of the product. In the long-term, seeing as all factors of production are variable we see that there will always be developer interest in the product as long as one person believes it is the best thing to do at some point to develop the product.

Developer interest is what causes the product to evolve. The product can evolve in either a market-orientated view or a product-orientated view. The market-orientated view is when the actions of labour and enterprise are being influenced by consumers, whereas the product-orientated view is based solely on the producer’s own beliefs. For a product to be successful in the long-term it has to undergo innovation – without this it will be pushed out through the process of creative destruction. Innovation by definition, no matter what its orientation must be producer-originated – and fundamentally the producer will produce what they believe is best. If other developers believe in the same, they will contribute and offer support, causing the product to grow, continue to innovate, and ultimately succeed in the long-run. Why? Because the very reason consumers will buy the good or service is due to this growth and innovation.

The conventional view is that this is a circular process – that consumers influence developer interest and developer interest influence consumers. However I believe otherwise – that producers have the final say in the long-run, but more importantly, in the very-very short-run. The reason is that there two root causes of what might seem to be a circular process, society and money.

  • Money is seen as the primary medium through which consumers can influence enterprise and labour. However in the very short-run money is almost completely disregarded in people’s decisions. Ideas will be chosen on the basis of their substance, not their potential earnings. In the long-run, money is as unpredictable as any other factor and it’s inflow is actually determined by the original short-run ideas.
  • Society is when the decision is based on the reactions of others. When dealing with an idea owned by a single entity, such as in innovation, society plays an almost negligible role in determining the realisation of the idea, even though it may play a role in either impeding or accelerating its progress.

From this we see that the circle is merely a single line of processes. What consumers buy depends on what producers make. How much a consumer will buy in the short run depends on the magnitude of developer interest. In the medium-term consumers will determine what happens to the product but the product will only survive in the long-run if developer interest is maintained.

A quick look at today’s market shows that this “long-run” period is indeed extremely long – almost synonymous with the business cycle. This inability to survive in the long-run is understood, yet disregarded as it is too far into the future to infer any meaningful derivations. This is very true – for most industries. However for the technology industry simply because it is at the forefront of progress this business cycle has been shrinking at an alarming pace, meaning that understanding how ultimately goods and services are producer-determined becomes very important. The implication is that trying to influence consumer-related symptoms, such as advertising, prices, quantitative or qualitative restrictions should be given second priority to trying to influence the mindset of producers.

To illustrate how this mindset is currently not understood I will ask a simple question. You work for a company. Let’s say your manager comes up to you and tells you to create a computer program of your liking. You scratch your own itch, so to say, and develop a product. A few weeks later your manager comes back with the production department manager and takes a look at your product. Both of the managers say “I really like that! I think it’s going to be a huge success!”. Now is the manager a producer or a consumer? If you said producer, you are wrong – they are both consumers. They have the ability to consume the good, but not to develop the good. It is important not to confuse the accelerating properties of capital and land with the developing properties of labour and enterprise. For this reason the success is not likely until other potential developers recognise merit in your work.

Some examples of how success has been producer-originated is in the iPhone, where the main reason consumers buy it is due to the amount of applications available on it. The Windows Mobile phones, due to the large number of applications on it, but failing because there is a lack in core developer interest (the OS has not been updated in ages). Android by Google, whose producer-embracing philosophy of so-called open-source has spun up almost 20,000 applications since its launch and is currently seeing a huge acceleration in market share. Linux – whose stubborn developers continue to progress despite the desktop market saying the complete opposite is now appearing like hot cakes in the market. Firefox and their thousands of add-ons – and its current battle with Chrome, which has exhibited innovation in browsers (and will be pushed out of the market if developer interest is lost or transferred to Chrome). Internet Explorer 6, where developer interest is finally moving away because they finally realise they don’t care about the customers when making websites that much (thank goodness). You think you use Windows because it’s good? No – it’s because it became a standard (even though back then Apple’s OS was miles ahead), which is what attracted developer interest. The list goes on.

This trend is most easily recognised in the technology industry (software, specifically) but is starting to be seen elsewhere, especially in other creative industries. A simple measure to determine the extent to which this trend has progressed in an industry is to ask an employee “why did you choose the job in the first place?” In the future this trend will start to bleed into other industries due to the increasing mobility of factors of production, increasing integration of markets into a worldwide affair, and of course the results of mass-amateurisation.

Finally as a closing note I’d like to throw in the topic of dogfooding – when producers use their own products, thus duplicating the roles of consumers as well as producers (hint: used really extensively in Google for a long time). This is a recipe for a self realising upward spiral of developer interest and consumer interest – finally creating the conventional circular process we think will always exist otherwise.

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When you vomit food for thought.

Today I felt like letting my mind run free and vomiting my thoughts onto the keyboard. Enjoy. Sorry if the post seems a little unstructured, but that’s how my mind works.

An interesting discussion cropped up the other day concerning Economics. One of the fundamental rules in economics that (most) goods have an inverse price-quantity relationship of demand. In other words, if the price is lower, you demand more because it is cheaper.

If you drew a graph of quantity on the x-axis and price on the y-axis, you would therefore get a downward sloping curve.

However, how can we justify why it slopes downward?

One of the theories used to explain it is marginal utility theory. Utility is a fancy economics term for “satisfaction gained from consumption”. Marginal utility theory is associated with how much satisfaction you gain from consuming one more of the good. In general, your utility will decrease. For example, if you eat a chocolate bar, it tastes great and you are very satisfied. However the more chocolate bars you eat, the less amount of satisfaction you gain from eating the next bar of chocolate.

One of the assumptions to allow marginal utility theory to justify why the price-quantity demanded relationship is negative is that we make rational decisions.

The challenge comes when you try to identify when we don’t make rational decisions. Go on, have a go. However there is a catch: making rational decisions does not imply we have perfect knowledge of the situation. In simpler words, it doesn’t matter if we do not have all the facts or the understand completely the mechanics behind a situation – rational decision making is based on what we perceive.

Here’s one attempt to identify an irrational situation: laziness. Suppose you can get a coffee here which costs $2, or a coffee that tastes better, and is cheaper that costs $1. However, the one that costs $1 is a 10 minute walk away. The rational person would pick the $1 coffee, however, some might argue that if we are lazy, we will just take the $2 coffee: hence an irrational decision. This is obviously flawed, as any economist would state that the cost of walking 10 minutes away outweighs the extra utility you would gain from paying half the price, hence the net utility gained would maximised in buying the $2 coffee. Therefore still a rational decision.

Another attempt was an interesting one: love. Let’s consider lust before considering love. Lust is easily disproved: we gain satisfaction from the attraction. Now let’s look at love. Love by my definition is “wanting the best for another despite any sacrifice“. The economic man would not give up 5 minutes of labour to please his wife – where is the rationality in self-sacrifice? Try to compare the actions of love to the satisfaction gained from self-sacrifice when performing charity. This is simply a different “form” of utility, but still utility nonetheless from making the decision we believe is right, best, bound to and is your duty. Therefore decisions made in love are still rational.

The final attempt was that of drugs. However the flaw is that drugs allow decisions to be made subconsciously, or without full consciousness. This means that decisions are therefore involuntary and not part of us. To an outsider, yes, this will be an irrational decision. However internally it remains rational.

The thing is to realise that there is a difference between externally-realised rationality and internally-realised rationality. It seems that internally-realised rationality is always rational. There is no irrationality internally. We always, without exception, make a decision because we believe it is the right and best decision to make at the point of time. Even if you pursuade yourself to make a “bad” decision, the persuasion in itself will act as a justification to your new “worse” decision actually being “better”. (Try read that again if it was confusing) It seems that this is the only unified aim between everybody.

Let’s consider this other form of utility that love (not to be confused with lust) introduces. What makes this “form” of utility interesting is that to an economic system, this utility would be considered irrational. As humans, there is no arguing that this utility plays a very significant role in our lives, if not the majority of roles. This poses an interesting question: why, then, have we created a system with such massive influence on many of our lives that chooses to disregard this form of utility? The quick-witted debator would immediately retort with the concept of legislations, ethical regulations, and other similar restrictions. However there is no doubt that we know little about these two forms of utility – and such systems were obviously made by following the “easy” rather than the “right”. This branches off nicely into the grey areas of morality – something I shall save for another day.

What makes the situation nicely contradicting is an interesting experiment done around the 1970s. A man was put into a room with his head connected up to brain wave measuring instruments. He was then told that he would press a button on a table in front of him whenever he wanted. The results of the experiment, quite predictably, were that about a split second (1/10th of a second approximately) before he moved his hand to hit the button, the brain neurons were fired up.

The experiment was then changed so that the man could report as to when exactly he was actually aware that he was about to make the decision to hit the button. The results were direct, conclusive, and of course: highly controversial. What happened was that the brain neurons had fired up before the man was conciously or even subconciously aware that he was going to make a decision. In fact, the actual timeline of events was: time 0: brain neurons fire up, time 0.1: man is subconsciously aware that he has made a decision, time 0.12: man makes decision and begins to move his hand.

The experiment was repeated with slight variations all with the same conclusion: a decision is made before we are even slightly aware of it. This, of course, was thrown quite rudely in the faces of believers of free will – all who predictably reacted with anger and disbelief.

The professor who carried out the experiment was too insulted by the results of the experiment and was afraid of the religious implications of his discovery. He has recently been building up a case against his results – suggesting that in the 0.02 seconds before the awareness and the action, you have the chance to rebuke the decision and thus go against it. Of course, there is the issue that the brain neurons have to fire up a good 0.1 seconds before that rebuking.

Getting back on subject, this suggests that all decisions are in fact irrational – as rationality suggests a conscious entity to make a decision. The effects of any situation are not determined by how much satisfaction we expect to gleam from a decision, but simply from the natural consequences of previous conditions.

Allow me to use an analogy to explain this. Gravity is a physical and naturally occuring phenomenon. It exists and functions unquestionably as a feature of life. It also provides a condition for any object – it creates a force that pulls a mass from infinity to a point. The object will always experience this force and can therefore act in a predictable manner.

However, gravity is not the only condition acting on the object, there are many others: air resistance, wind, friction, surface area – and even the mass itself of the object. All of these variables determine the outcome of how the object will react to gravity. Each – to use an economics term – ceteris paribus will have predictable outcomes, but the mechanics behind the situation are so complex that we are currently unable to account for all of them – and hence decide what company we should buy shares in next week.

Then, you argue, “then why is there variance in our decision making? What is the root cause that would start off all the deviations in conditions around the universe?”. Like gravity – questioning what began the existence of it is non-beneficial: it gets us nowhere – however understanding and appreciating its existence is what is useful.

Drifting slightly off economics, this brings up to the concept of the mind and free will. The question remains that if our decisions cannot be controlled – what is the purpose? The idea that decision are made before we realise it as a result of past conditions does not mean that decisions are not made. What it does do is provde the concept that the mind is simply yet another naturally occuring phenonenom that reacts in such a way to conditions. There are decisions, but no decision-making entity. There is a mind, but no “self”. We are not in control – so to speak.

Ignoring the dramatic last sentence, let me give another analogy. Imagine a puppy. Even if you house and feed the puppy, you do not “own” the puppy. You cannot control what the puppy is going to do. You can predict what the puppy will be likely to do, you can understand why the puppy reacts in certain ways, but not control. However, what you can do is train the puppy. You can train the puppy to react in a certain ways to certain conditions.

Let’s say you put a rock on a top of a hill filled with gravel – it rolls down a path. If you put it on that exact spot again, it will again roll down the path. The more you put that rock such that it rolls along the path, it will create a groove along the path, and thus make it more and more likely to follow that very same path.

Similarly, the mind, though a naturally occuring phenonemon, can be trained. It is this understanding that prevents us from a unfufilling struggle to try and control every single thought that occurs throughout our mind. Instead of controlling the thought – simply realise the thought as what it is, and nothing more.

Let’s leave the “everything is irrational” to interpretation.

Meanwhile, let’s return to the subject of utility. I might be going out on an arm and a leg here, but I am willing to suggest that these two forms of utility each have externalities. An externality may be defined as the spillover effects incurred by society due to the consumption of a good – or in this case, a form of utility. They come in two sunny and not so sunny packages: positive and negative externalities – both of which names are pretty self-explanatory.

I propose that utility gained from conditions such as “lust” have negative externalities, and that utility gained from conditions such as “love” have positive externalities. Before continuing, let’s consider the nature behind these two utilities.

The lust-based utility has an interesting characteristic that it stems from “attachment“. The utility is gained from the satisfaction of an attachment, a greed, a craving, whatever you want to call it. Another characteristic is that consumption will also create more “attachment” – an attachment that will ultimately lead to dissatisfaction, or dis-utility, when it can no longer be consumed.

The love-based utility also has an interesting characteristic: it is derived from, and results in contentedness. It is an understanding of interdependency, of duty, of a natural flow and responsibility. Even more interesting is that this corresponds with our definition of “maturity”‘s characteristics. For example, when we are very young, we are completely dependent. Becoming adolescents, we have a phase where we strive to be completely independent. Through experience we soon develop an attitude that most recognise as a sure-sign of maturity – the understanding of interdependence. Perhaps that’s why most old people are like what they are – especially nearing death.

Now that the characteristics are identified, let’s consider the externalities. This, like most of the grey areas of ethics is not something that I can easily persuade through a couple sentences on a blog post. Instead, simple observance and experience is enough to convince anyone that that which is rooted in attachment is actually a cause of dissatisfaction (think long term, where impermanence applies to all situations), whereas that rooted in understanding would cause a lot of morally responsible activities to take place, as well as solving all of the negative reactions one would otherwise experience when a craving is not satisfied.

So what sort of economic system is that which feeds on its own negative externalities? Masochistic and deluded to be sure.

If the implications of the last sentence didn’t hit you hard – here is it rephrased. If we understand and simply see things as a situation and not a provocation, we have eliminated a great deal of suffering. Imagine seeing a rose, but instead of thinking “this is a rose. It smells nice. It looks beautiful. I like how it looks. Who might I give this rose to? Do I have a rose? Is my garden doing well?…etc” we can instead just think “this is a rose”.

This elimination of suffering includes … well, the basic economic problem. Welcome to my wonderful new economic system – one which through the training of people mind’s can eliminate the unlimited needs that people experience, and thus make resource allocation theoretically completely sustainable.

In fact, one huge multinational has been moving towards sustainability throughout the entire lifetime of its business activity. Their statistics don’t lie. With every breakthrough in sustainability – their profits have risen, their costs have fallen, employees are more motivated, and the company vision is increasingly clearly conceptualised in every employee’s minds. Their CEO recently gave a talk on TED explaining this and provides financial proof to persuade others to join in with their movement.

Imagine a world where contentedness is the norm. Where our industries are based to satisfy our needs and wants which are not fueled by craving. A completely sutainable way of living. Somebody once said, remove all the beetles in the world and life would perish within 50 years – remove all the humans in the world and life would flourish within 50 years.

Beautiful image, no?

Completely impractical? Yes.