Category Archives: Full Posts

The Trips We Plan Just Because We Do

The one thing I promised myself is that I would travel. Like most forward-looking promises, I left it to future Jordon to determine what that actually means. Unfortunately, future Jordon is at just as much of a loss.

The actual act of being one place and then in a couple of hours being in another, I’ve pretty much solved. Anyone who I speak to regularly (or who follows me on Foursquare) can testify that I’m somewhere different two or three weekends a month. Sometimes there are weddings or birthdays or holidays or people to see. Those reasons for traveling are fairly easy to quantify. It’s the other reasons for traveling, the trips we plan just because we do, that require further analysis.

This analysis is intensely personal and applies to me until it doesn’t. At its simplest, I travel for experiences. And that means I travel indiscriminately; I book flights based on where travel companions want to go and/or based on the price from the closest airport. I have a list of places I want to go, but I’m not too concerned about it right now. At this point, quantity of experience is of much more concern to me than quality of experience.

Does that make me a bad traveler or a bad person? Maybe. But, it’s been about 18 months since I decided to travel in this manner and it’s lead me to some places that I’ve really enjoyed that I may not have otherwise visited.

Why am I writing this now? Over the next six months, I’m traveling to Kentucky to trek the bourbon trail; I’m going home for Thanksgiving and Christmas; I’m going back to Kentucky for a wedding; I’m going to rural South Carolina for a wedding; I’m going to Fort Lauderdale for a wedding; and I’m taking a five-week trip around the world. I’m going to write about these experiences and others that will crop up. The posts will cover the where, when and how. But, I want anyone wondering why I’m taking these trips to know why: because I can and because I want to.

Art as Problem Solving

This speech by Director Steven Soderbergh has been making the rounds. It’s a long, but I would argue, necessary read over the state of cinema.

What really interested me was his take on art as problem solving:

Art is also about problem solving, and it’s obvious from the news, we have a little bit of a problem with problem solving. In my experience, the main obstacle to problem solving is an entrenched ideology. The great thing about making a movie or a piece of art is that that never comes into play. All the ideas are on the table. All the ideas and everything is open for discussion, and it turns out everybody succeeds by submitting to what the thing needs to be. Art, in my view, is a very elegant problem-solving model.

I don’t quite agree with what he’s saying here, but our sentiments are very similar: art is important because it explains things that may be unexplainable with plain language.

Our minds are constantly looking for connections between things and sometimes the best way to make those connections is by relating it to something that’s conceptually the same, but practically different. In the Bible, Christ did this with parables. With movies, it’s done by putting a similar story in a different setting. Science Fiction arose from this concept: it commented on modern problems by placing the story in a futuristic setting or an alternate reality. Doing so helped us get a fresh look on modern problems by eliminating biases that may have resulted come from personal feelings rather than the facts of the problem.

It may sound obvious, but art solves problems by helping us think creatively. Creative thinking isn’t a skill that most people just have; it’s something that needs to be developed, cultivated and maintained. This is why it’s so scary that we consistently see the arts cut out of schooling due to budget issues. Science, rational thinking, mathematics: they all require various levels of creativity. Not because they’re "soft" or because they’re inexact, but because they require a mind that’s willing to bend in order to fully comprehend.

We may be able to teach our kids the concepts of chemistry, but how are they supposed to expand the discipline if we’re not teaching them to think creatively?

The Politics and Philosophy of Racism

Alex Tabarrok and John Sides (via the Economist) on Chris Hayes’ claim that “It is undeniably the case that racist Americans are almost entirely in one political coalition and not the other”:

…identification with the Democratic Party tends to decline, and identification with the Republican party tends to increase, as attitudes toward black become less favorable—at least when attitudes are measured with two different racial stereotypes. However, the relationship is far from deterministic: substantial minorities of those with unfavorable attitudes toward blacks identify as Democrats.

Reihan Salam (also via the Economist) comments on this study:

[F]or many of the people “in my world”—that is, professionals who attended selective colleges and universities in the English-speaking world—the notion that racist Americans are almost entirely in one coalition (the center-right coalition) is an article of faith that is really central to center-left political identity. Those of us who do not share this view thus find ourselves arguing from a position that is seen as intrinsically morally suspect.

But perhaps most interesting is the Economists author’s take on his libertarian view of racism/sexism:

Racism and sexism have come to matter more to me in that I have come to see them in terms of the political value that matters most to me: liberty. And so I have become much more sympathetic to policies that would limit individual liberty in order to suppress patterns or norms of behaviour that might pose an even greater threat to freedom. So I’ve become fairly friendly toward federal anti-discrimination law, affirmative action, Title 9, the works. I have found that this sympathy, together with my belief in the theoretical possibility and historical reality of structural coercion, releases me almost entirely from the liberal suspicion that I’m soft on racism (even if I do wish to voucherise Medicare). Phew!

I’ve been trying to articulate this for a long time. Two parts to this:

1) The problem is that people refuse to weigh issues; any violation of any belief is unacceptable.  If I hate racism and I hate government legislation, but only government legislation can get rid of racism, I have to make a choice of which I hate more. 1 (racism, in case you’re wondering) I may have to violate my political beliefs, but isn’t it worth it?

2) But if the opposite is true (legislation to decrease racism actually makes it worse), I would be considered morally suspect to come out against something that is perceived to solve for racism. No one would ever admit to it, but some people consider the perception of solving an issue just as good as solving the issue. Oddly enough, there may be an argument for that.

All of us have biases that prevent us from seeing the larger picture. Sometimes these biases are good; most of the time, they’re bad. You may end up exactly where you started, but before giving a knee jerk reaction to something, consider why you think that way and why someone else thinks otherwise. You may find yourself staying quiet or– gulp–on the other side of the road more often than you think.

  1. I know there’s a point where this isn’t true, but anything can be taken to extremes. If carrots are getting stolen from the grocery store, one way to prevent that is for the grocery store to stop carrying carrots.

The Implicit Meaning of Advertisements

Dalton Caldwell on his latest creation, App.net:

App.net is a different kind of social platform.

We’re building a real-time social service where users and developers come first, not advertisers.

We believe that advertising-supported social services are so consistently and inextricably at odds with the interests of users and developers that something must be done.

Help us create the service we all wish existed.

It’s no secret how much I love Twitter and what it does. App.net looks to do a similar thing, except this time you pay up front for it.

There’s essentially two routes of monetizing something on the Internet today:

1) You pay an up-front fee for the service or product.

2) You access the product for free with the understanding that you will see advertisements at some point.

I like the first model better. Not because I hate seeing advertisements, but because what seeing advertisements implicitly means. Everything that is sold is slave to to who or what is paying the money for it. If I pay, that means the product is slave to me. If advertisers are footing the bill, it means the product will adhere to what the advertisers want.

In the instance of using ad-supported products, what the user wants and what advertisers want are inherently at odds. Users want to enjoy the product. Advertisers couldn’t care less about that; they’re more interested in you buying what’s being advertised. Because advertisements without people seeing them are useless, it then becomes the job of the product providers to strike the right balance. Within reason, product providers are going to first look to the needs of who or what is providing the funding.

I want to be explicit here: some people don’t like advertisements because they don’t like being the product sold. This doesn’t particularly bother me. Yes, I understand that Facebook and Twitter essentially advertise products that they think I’ll buy based on personal information that I’ve given them. I’m saying I’m OK with that as long as Twitter and Facebook put my wants and needs above those advertisements. The problem is that this is not the world in which we live.

There are a ton of arguments against App.net. (The one that worries me the most is that the majority of people won’t buy in, thus rendering what makes Twitter great–its ubiquity– null.) But, if I truly like the first model better and I feel a well-designed Twitter-like service is something that adds value to my life, it’s my job to fund it.

You’ve got about 17 hours to throw in your $50.

Update: I assumed the App.net alpha would be private for those who funded it early, but it looks like you can join anytime.

Knowing Is Half the Battle

During this year’s State of the Union address I tweeted:

In the next ten years, the lack of widespread affordable high-speed Internet will fragment the country. That needs to be solved now. #sotu

That’s inaccurate. But, in my defense, it’s inaccurate because I was limited by how much I could say at one time. Since I’ve been invited to the White House Tweetup this Monday, I wanted to take a couple of paragraphs to flesh out this idea, since I think it’s what got me invited in the first place.

Let’s start out with why that statement is inaccurate: the lack of affordable high-speed Internet isn’t what’s going to fragment the country, information asymmetry is the culprit. Information asymmetry may be correlated with the lack of affordable, high-speed Internet, but the Internet in and of itself is just a tool for delivering information; it’s meaningless without content.

So what is information asymmetry? Essentially it’s when one party has more information than another and is better able to make decisions because of it. Most definitions you’ll find include both parts (more information and making better decisions), but truly the first part is all that’s necessary.

The second part of that definition, though, is why this is such a pressing problem. We see one group of people who continually become more and more informed and thus are able to make better decisions because of it. Eventually the decision equilibrium is thrown off and someone starts to win and someone starts to lose. That’s when information asymmetry goes from being an inconvenience to a pressing problem. This may be simplifying matters a bit too much, but many of the problems we’re facing today come from the fact that one person is able to take advantage of another person based on information that he or she has that the other person does not.

To make matters worse, information is a process. It’s stackable. What I’ll learn about tomorrow is built upon what I learned about yesterday. There’s no way to get around that; it’s why you have to go to first grade before seventh grade. While learning has non-linear tendencies, it’s a decidedly linear process. This means that this isn’t a problem we can turn around overnight. It’s a problem that needs to be solved now, so that we can stop reaping the consequences in ten years.

But, how do you solve for this? It’s not like you can (or should) force people to become more informed (as if “informed” is a palpable, achievable goal). But, what you can do is break down the barriers that are preventing people from getting there. Widespread, affordable, high-speed Internet access can contribute. Putting information in a forum that people pay attention to (e.g. social media) can as well. Tailoring information to target specific groups is another way. These are all easier said than done and there are a thousand questions that need to be asked (What is information? How much needs to be spread? What constitutes as something that people need to know?), but it’s a direction we need to move in quickly, before we lose the attention of the general public.

I wanted to say this now because in my application to the White House Tweetup, I mentioned that one of the things that interests me about Twitter is how it’s engaged people with issues. Folks who would never pick up the New York Times or the Economist are now exposed to those ideas on a daily basis. Granted, it’s a shallow exposition, but knowing is half the battle. Acting on this knowledge may well be the other half, but that’s a struggle for another day.