Sunday, May 30, 2010

My Heroes

Today I forgot where my bike was, so walked in a direction I didn't need to and ended up taking the long way round the state library.

As I was passing into QV I heard some yelling turned around and recognised an old friend from PSP. I am not certain but he has muscular distrophy or something and couldn't be sure if he was yelling at somebody or whatever. I walked up to say high and he said he remembered me and then he finished tying up his laces and we did the walk and talk.

I'm not really comfortable writing this, and words really fail me in the most literal sense. His walking is awkward and not confidence inspiring, his speech is unmoderated and ungraceful all because of the condition he lives with. I don't know how he feels about it or what his experience is, but I just imagine the brutality of the condition living in the society I see around us. The words 'retard' and 'spastic' written on peoples faces if not being uttered from the sphincter mouths of arseholes.

Knowing him personally from our days in PSP I know he's intelligent, university educated and normal in every sense aside from his direct control over his own muscular system. Which makes me imagine the indignity of the condition to be sharp as a steel trap and treated like a moron simply because you don't have the control over the muscles in your mouth that others take for granted.

But dignity this guy has, and I know, plainly that I know shit. I don't know if his condition is degenerative or stable but I assume he's been living it for a fairly long time.

Really his news is all good, he's got a full time job, he's finished uni, he's a project manager. He's living up to his capabilities and probably overreaching the expectations of others. I imagine in days gone by he wouldn't have even been given a chance and kept out of uni, out of work and shut off from society.

I mean that's just it. I'm some arsehole who thinks he's heroic just for showing up each day to do his job. He's always inspired me with his dignity and it's this wonderful calm collected attitude that makes it almost too much to bare.

After shaking hands and parting from our walk and talk I just wanted to go somewhere and have a cry in shame, I can't really explain it. I feel ashamed that I feel I couldn't bare his condition and that he does it so easily and that I'm so afraid of disability that he inspires me by just living a dignified life...

There's a conflict within me that says I'm a coward that just wants to live in a world where I don't have to see the senselessness of genetics. But at the same time I know the world is richer and more wonderful for the people that push the boundaries of what we the narrow minded and able bodied think is possible. He destroys my fear by living his life, and I don't even have the balls to say that he's a hero to me.

I don't want to be a condescending mofo though. I just want to be a human being, it breaks my heart because it's so senseless. I feel he and all people afflicted deserve better. Indeed nobody deserves to suffer, there is nothing to be gained by suffering.

I don't know what the fuck I'm saying, I want to break down, and it's REALLY FUCKING CONFUSING because it was GREAT TO SEE HIM AGAIN.

Okay so...

first, I'm not a fucking man I just pretend to be. I'm terrified of being disabled even though rationally I know I would deal with it if it happened to me. I'm still too scared though to take inspiration from somebody that shows just how well people can 'deal' with it.

second, you can help me out by treating every person you ever meet ever like a fucking human being. No matter what the circumstances, no matter what the relationship. If your an adult you can control your behaviour, and if you treat people with dignity (and animals) then you will go a long way to removing the cruelty from the world that scares me.

third, assume somebody is intelligent until they prove you wrong. My first attempt to learn AUSLAN I was struck by reading that deafness has extra burdens than being blind, namely if you are blind people don't assume you are a moron. But when you are deaf people do. I often forget my english as a second language friends are as intelligent on the whole as my other friends. There's more ways to articulate intelligence than articulating a well formed sentence.

four, I don't really understand emotions, but I know that feelings of despair and shame and shit can show up in really strange places. I imagine that what I felt was a massive distimulation at the relief that I found somebody that inspires in me visions of mans inhumanity to man doing quite well and none of what I fear has actually come to pass. And I feel ashamed, how can I call this man a friend when I can't even have a conversation without wanting to go run and have a cry?

fifth, you know and I know that I don't believe in god and if there is a god then he is a cruel cunt that metes out genetic disorders to people who never had a chance to be innocent or guilty and have turned out to be really quite beautiful. But nevertheless when I had time to compose myself I remembered this 5 page sequence from Real.

Real in particular makes me feel better. I guess the body can be broken beyond repair, but the mind can heal. I'm going to go man up now.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Reciprocal Attraction

I've always been better at picking up women that like me than picking up women I like. Before Bryce has a chance to refute me and lavish humiliation let me qualify that by saying I'm not actually good at either, it's a case of tallest pygmy.

I'm reading Dan Gilbert's 'Stumbling on Happiness' currently and it's pretty entertaining, I'm not finished but thus far it indicates as its central thesis that we are generally terrible at predicting future happiness because it is coloured by our present context.

Which is to say whomever we though was the most desirable partner when we were 14 is probably not going to be the same person that we estimate the most desirable partner when we are 24 and so on. So aside from the immensely practical advice, don't pick your life partner when you are 14, it offers an explanation as to why divorce rates are so high.

There's other fascinating insights into the human mind via the books documented studies, for example the more elaborate somebodies fantasies about someone they have a crush on the less likely they are to actually act on those desires. Why? The book suggests that the more pleasure you extract from anticipation, and the greater those fantasies depart from likely events the less incentive you have to try and realise them.

It reminds me of another excellent book Social Intelligence by Daniel Goleman who in the american tradition is one of the authors quoted on the front of Gilbert's book saying 'tour de force' or some other endorsement cliche.

It had a fascinating insight into sexual selection via the evolution of the human brain, things like what we look for in a partner - the primary characteristic for both sexes being kindness. But there's also peculiarities like you only get a hit of dopamine from your brain when somebody you are attracted to looks at you, not simply by just looking at them. Its a handy evolutionary measure that encourages partners to stick around and not leave the other with the baby. You only get the reward if your partner is happy with you.

Enter feedback systems, now it's pretty obvious that a relationship isn't a relationship unless there is a mutual attraction a consensus that you are together. Elstwise its stalking/rape. 'It takes two to tango' which due to my lack of knowledge of dance may be a fallicy but does apply to relationships. What I'm wondering now though is there any feedback effect to the effect that we are attracted not just to kindness, appearance of physical health, humour etc. but could we be attracted to attraction? In other words:

Are we attracted to people who are attracted to us?

Now this I find highly confusing, but no books seem to touch on this possible feedback effect. It does sound like something from 'The Secret' and maybe it's covered in Neil Strauss' 'The Game' I don't know, as I've said already I'm not particularly good at picking up anyone.

To the contrary of the argument I sympathise with D-Ro wise man that said 'the secret to a good relationship is to date somebody you actually like.' or something, I remember sitting at lunch with uber philosopher D-Ro whom confessed that sometimes when he found out somebody liked him who clearly wasn't in his league he was personally offended. Not to single D-Ro out as some kind of narcissistic chauvinist, I concur I too have felt this way.

Furthermore the number of people I know that have confessed they find rejecting people exhillarating, almost as good picking up somebody you like, requires me to take my shoes off to count.

Then there's the lunch cutters, which while it is generally agreed to be unethical most make exceptions to the rule when they feel somebodies claim is unrealistic. My own host sister is a lunch cutter having picked up the guy her best friend was in love with. After days of mercillesly telling Sis she was a bad person I finally got to accompany her to school and see her best friend, a sight at which I blanched and told Sis to 'forget it, you've done no wrong there.'

So of course it's not as simple as just being attracted to somebody will make them attracted to you. That's patently untrue as Brook found out when I ran away from her at the grade 2 disco.

But to the affirmative there is just the general principle of laziness. The path of least resistence is surely to just feed the crying child. Why? because it's easy. They like you, you are not revolted by them. Why not? That doesn't sound like attraction though.

In the prolonged and protracted break up I went through back when I was at Honda, I was constantly amazed that my ex just seemed to bump into guys she liked and they reciprocated her attraction all the time. This never happened to me. She just seemed to meet guys walking along beaches anywhere in the world that were viable suitors wherever she seemed to cast her eye. I'm not calling her a slut, it wasn't sleeping around merely the identification of prospective partners, but to me it appeared that for her finding a new partner was as easy as going to a supermarket.

For me by contrast it seems like 1 out of 10 girls I actually like have any actual interest in me. Suggesting once again that there is no such thing as a reciprocal attraction, we must look for the 'double-coincidence-of-wants' there is no give and take, no subconscious chemical medium of exchange to step in and grease the wheel. Thus it appears I am doomed to that narrow sliver if where my Venn diagrams overlap 'People who are attracted to tohm' and 'People tohm is attracted to' which given what Gilbert's book tells me is going to shift and change all the time anyway.

But not that above I said 'it seems' like 1 out of 10 girls I like have any actual interest in me. Truth is I just don't know. I never falsified this theory because the majority of girls I've liked over my years I never actually asked out. In large part this is due to the fact that often they were taken at the time I was interested in them. Or alternatively I would be. On top of that, I was a chronic fantasizer thus I increased the risk of rejection tenfold and had no incentive to test my attraction against theirs.

So maybe, just maybe there is such a thing as reciprocal attraction. Again to the affirmative is not just that my feisty ex is probably much better at communicating her interest in people than I am, but also mancrushes.

I have had one I am accutely aware of, it was Yusuke, he was this cool cool very cool Japanese guy, the sort of guy I'd pimp my sister to if I'd thought of it. He turned up to basketball and was damn good at it. I didn't want to sleep with him per se, but I did try to emulate him. His hairstyles, dress sense and japanese speech patterns. He is one of the few japanese people to not become my best friend. I have a feeling the mancrush wasn't mutual but I did crave his approval. One of the highlights of my street balling career was scoring a put back and turning around to see Yuseke giving the 'black power' salute.

Yusuke never tried overtly to ditch me from his gang, I suspect though my skills weren't up to scratch. But have I had any other mancrushes? I've certainly been the recipient of them, my sister has a friend that works in our local bikeshop, apparantly he has a mancrush on me. D-Ro may claim that I had a mancrush on him, but to this day I swear I thought he was gay and was just trying to get him to cheat on John.

But when man-crushes are reciprocal you just become BFFs. Best Friends Forever. If somebody thinks you are really cool and you in turn think they are really cool you start sitting next to each other in english class and the teacher turns around to find you laughing at felching or whatever and you hold out from telling the teacher what it means because then you won't be able to call people felchers anymore in class. Or you set up a mandate to 'smash stuff'.

I keep thinking of all the BFFs I have were the friendship was instigated initially by a one-way 'attraction' I don't want to sound queer or nothing, but typically one guy decides another guy is cool and pays them time and attention. This in turn forces that person to pay time and attention to somebody normally outside their social circle. Bingo-bango, the (I assume* platonic) attraction is set.

So man-crushes are only man-crushes when they fail, they are one way. Could it be? Could it possibly be that the same is true of hetero/homo-sexual attraction? That some component is feedback, I've read that 'women want to be wanted' and on at least one occassion I felt as if somebody hitting on me had actually pointed out to me I wanted to hit on them, but somebody should do some safe, clinical study. Goleman or Gilbert or whatever.

what would I do with the results? Probably nothing. Knowledge doesn't make your balls any bigger.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Naive Investor Prelude to Chapter 8: A New Dichotomy of Risk

Before embarking on asset classes I will condescendingly call 'real securities' namely stocks and bonds, I feel it is time to elaborate on risk one of the central concepts of investment if not of our time.

If you look up Risk on wikipedia you'll find a fairly fair assesment of risk having all types of definitions depending on context. You'll also see an allusion to the current debate surrounding risk.

I'm going to simplify it for you and catagorize risk by the two general approaches to it one of which I am in favor of, one I am strongly against.

Let me introduce the two approaches 'CYA' and 'Consequentialist'. Now I shall elaborate.


CYA if you are unfamiliar stands for 'cover your arse' and it incompasses pretty much all of the current popular investment risk strategies. Portfolio theory that is taught in university, Gaussian probabilities etc.
It is largely statistical based and measures the volatility of outcomes over time. CYA is largely attributing probabilities to possible outcomes and focuses on the downside of risk, that is avoidance of losses not so much the seeking of gains.

CYA conforms to 'expected value' which in lay terms is given by expected value = chance of success x value of success. But it focuses if you will on chance side of that equation. So if you have a 50:50 chance of winning $1 million dollars (with the alternate outcome being 0) your expected value is $500,000 thus, it is perfectly rational to bet $499,999 on a 50:50 chance to win a million dollars.

Perhaps the CYA approach(es) are best summarised by wisdom teeth. My wisdom teeth. X-rays of my lower wisdom teeth revealed that like my other teeth they had very long roots and unlike my other teeth these roots wrapped around the nerves that control my lower lip. Thus in time they could actually sever the nerve and leave me drooling for the rest of my life. Removing them involved some risk too. So the dental surgeon consulting me pointed to a sheet saying that if I didn't have the surgery a had a 30% chance of living in drooltown, but if I had the surgery and something went wrong I had a 5% chance of drooltown.

Here I could compare the risks directly, and gave informed consent for the operation. It was an operation I only had to have once and 19 times out of 20 I'd wake up afterwards and have a fully functioning lower lip.

I call it CYA because the primary function of calculating the risks is to cover the surgeon in this case from litigation. Nobody really anticipates waking up in the worst case scenario even with the ambiguities of the assumptions I based my decisions on, like 'how qualified is qualified?' when I assumed he was a qualified dental surgeon. If I had been sitting in a local clinic in rural Pakistan and been presented with the same form chances are I wouldn't sign it, factoring in additional risks to the proposed 5% like a 50% chance I didn't wake up with my kidneys.

Anyway, CYA is fine for doctors, because the benefits to society of a Doctor practicing within the limits of his training outweigh the downside of the occasional fuck-up, so people shouldn't be allowed to sue them out of business and practice every time there are complications. This is distinct from actual medical malpractice.

CYA is not so great for an investment firm. Because you aren't having surgery every day you do either passively or actively make investment decisions again and again every day. So when a financial advisor, broker or ratings agency tells you something probably wont happen they are winking at you and covering their arses.

And cover their arses it does, nobody yet has been clapped in shackles and been transported off to jail for the US-subrime crisis. Just like a doctor they tell you the probability of some catastrophic result is 5%, and that 19 out of 20 years your investment is going to flourish. But you don't invest for a year (hopefully) you invest every day and once every decade or so that catostrophic outcome occurs and you lose 30% of your net worth.

When you demand somebodies head for not warning you of this impending danger you find you can't. You interpreted their advice as 'don't worry it won't happen.' when they said 'don't worry it probably won't happen.'

There in lies the main philosophy of what I call CYA risk management they tell you 'don't worry it probably won't happen' and lure you the naive investor into taking risks. If your wager goes sour they hold their hands up and say 'hey, we said probably.'

You can spot CYA because they attempt to predict future volatility by past volatility. So they determine their probabilities based on past price movements and relative price movements. They believe that something is safe because 96% of all error terms fall within 2 standard deviations and shit. All whilst blithely ignoring the (relatively) regular occurances of 10 sigma (standard deviation) shifts that should only happen once in a trillion years (aka, market crashes).


So I mentioned the expected value equation. CYA focuses on the element of chance, or chance variable. Consequentialist looks to either side and below. Put simply, what are the consequences?

It takes almost Zarathustran unlearning to admit you don't know something, so let's first address why I and the consequentialist approach largely leave to the side or disregard entirely the chance element.

There IS a clear cut dichotomy when it comes to knowledge, you are either A) certain. Or B) uncertain. There is no inbetween. If you have 50:50 or 95:5 distribution of outcomes you cannot say the former is uncertain and the latter is certain, fairly certain or even almost certain. Why? Can you rely on any outcome in either situation? No. At the end of the day, you don't know what is going to happen. Whereever you permit the thinnest sliver of doubt, you simply cannot count on everything going your way.

Sure you can hope that it does. You can pray that it does. You can wish that it does. But you cannot rightly, expect it to, or count on it to.

You shouldn't base your decisions on the probability. You should base them on the consequences of the outcomes.

It is for this reason, we invest little energy or effort into estimating the probabilities. They can be good to know, but they are afterthought status. The only exception would be in a casino where the randomization is mechanical and predictable in which case you don't bet and certainly don't bet for long periods because the house always wins.

So we look at the consequences. If we want to be thorough we look at both positive and negative outcomes. Being conservative though, I would suggest looking at the negative outcome.

In CYA we determined that it was rational to wager $499,999 on a 50:50 bet for $1 million. This probably wasn't too convincing for you. From your perspective, the prospect of (barely more than) doubling your wealth isn't nearly so attractive as the horrifying prospect of losing your wealth. A consequentialist approach is simply - you cannot bare the consequences of losing.

There is your decision rule 'can I accept the worst outcome?' or if you will 'Am I happy to lose my money?' here, the term happy is ambiguous. If you are like me and plan to invest ethically, your view may be slightly skewed, it may be that you are happy to lose your money on ethical investments because consistent with your values there simply is nothing else to invest in. But for most people it will mean 'can I honestly say that if the deal goes south and my money is gone I will suck it up? That I will tell my friends "I made my own bed now I'll lay in it"?' and so forth.

Warren Buffet appears to take this approach, and I suspect you'll find it in many of the value-based investors. To paraphrase Buffet 'I'd never bet something important to me to gain something unimportant.'

Buffet's situation is no doubt a positive one, based on the philosophy of 'You only get rich once' which to put it simply says, once you are rich there is not too much point to being double rich. So why bet your financial freedom (being rich) to just get wealthier?

Now for those scratching their heads and wondering why anyone would ever make any wager, let's rephrase slightly, the real statement is 'what can you afford to wager?' Where naive investors get in trouble is wagering everything they have so they become risk averse and apply the same level of risk to their whole portfolio even when it is called 'diversification'

For a billionaire the answer to the aforementioned question may be 'I can afford to lose $100,000 every year.' they know their savings are enough to mitigate any loss's impact on their lifestyle, and their savings ratio is sufficient that they will replace the lost principle in short order. They can shop around for the highest expected value, accepting either a low risk, large return or a high risk extremely large return.

For you, that figure is going to be smaller, and the 'fat-tails' approach may not be for you. But the question is still valid, how much could you lose without inducing panic? Without seriously crippling your future lifestyle ambitions? furthermore it doesn't stop there. The true consequentialist approach mitigates the consequences by coming up with contingencies or taking out insurance.

You can do this with derivatives, forward contracts, hedging etc. You can just adjust your lifestyle expectations. Your 6 month holiday in Europe would be nice, but if things go south (way south) you'll just go to touring round Australia, Central America etc.

Consequentialism in other words throws out the fallacy of the slippery slope by actively thinking through the actual consequences rather than banking on them not happening. What I mean by slippery slope is when mentally you think of your options being A and Z instead of A to Z.

For example, my mother is pathologically afraid of ending up in a shitty flat in a retirement village to live out the rest of her days on a Aged Pension. This is option Z. What she wants to do is take 3 month holidays to Europe and so fourth for the rest of her years travelling and living up retirement. This is option A.

She is prone to panic because her super funds and investment portfolio seem to be pointing at either option A or option Z at any given time. What she fails to acknowledge is the vast range of lifestyle options and outcomes between the two extremes. Option B for example maybe 2 month annual holidays to Europe. Option M might be annual caravan trips around Australia. Option J may be volunteer work in Africa somewhere. Option X maybe living on the aged pension in rural Indonesia... by concentrating on consequences, you can actively change your risk profile.

To contrast CYA we know says 'Don't worry it (probably) won't happen' then the Consequentialist says 'You will recover (with dignity) if it does happen.'

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

End of Season Shorts Sale: 30 Pieces of Silver

I caught up with my friend Stacey on the weekend and felt betrayed when he identified himself as one of the conspiracy to bring shorts back up above the knee. For somebody I know and trusted to be a wanton participant in the emasculation of mankind is sometimes a source of grief too heavy to bare.

But, whilst I have nothing against knees per se, my refutation was sufficiently amusing and on the fly that I thought I might share it with you as I shared it with Judas:

There comes a time in a boys life where he transitions to man. This process is marked by not having your mother buy clothes for you. As we all know, mothers make a young boy try on jumper after jumper, pant after pant until she identifies one that is a 'proper fit'. She never seems to acknowledge that a boy is just a man waiting to happen, and that 'M' is not the real size of things to come, 'XXXL' is.
So the glorious day when a ex-boy come-man turns up on casual day wearing oversized clothing is one where all may acknowledge that this man buys his own clothes.
Of course somewhere betwixt 13-20 we stop growing, but this does not mean we men should start buying 'proper fitting' clothes. No the illusion can never be reversed. Real men always know they can be more, bigger, better than they are already and their clothes should both reveal and conceal their true power.
This is why even a grown man's sleeves should come down to the middle of his palms and soak up the pink viscous soap in public washrooms, why men should strut just in order to keep their pants from falling down, and why it should be feasable to tuck your shorts into your socks even when your socks come up to your ankles.
For to do otherwise is to broadcast that life is too hard, you cannot face its challenges and you have been measured and weighed and found wanting. You have retreated back to your mothers skirtstrings and cry yourself to sleep on your lavender scented pillows.

Monday, May 24, 2010

How to be offended

Whether it's the Chaser making fun of kids with Cancer, the Thai Royal Family being criticised on CNN or Der Groot Newspaper / South Park portraying the prophet Mohammed or somebody suggesting that Tech Stocks in 1999/Housing right now is maybe not as great an investment you believe sooner or later you are going to offend somebody. Either unwittingly or deliberately.

Whilst it is generally good advice to avoid offending people, I have to say that causing offense is one of the most important aspects of freedom. I don't know the exact meaning of the word offense, but I suspect it ranges from moral outrage to hurt feelings.

Parliamentary priveledge for example illustrates the importance of a healthy respect for the right to offend, it allowed the English house of commons and lords to actually criticise the monarchy and be immune from the king's wrath. Freedom of Speech too is something that allows people to speak out against the ruling elite.

Furthermore it's not as simple as a clear cut world of right and wrong, which would make parliamentary priveledge and freedom of speech essentially vacuous. You cannot say 'you can say anything you like... except about kids with cancer.' doesn't work, just like the kid with brittle bones in primary school was always the biggest prick because you couldn't hit him back.

People believe different things, people come into conflict, conflict can be constructive and I believe firmly that people are entitled to their beliefs.

Those who cause offense usually pay the price, in lowered esteem or not getting picked at the speed dating or losing the prospective job, whatever. That's fair enough. (In so far as it is fair to discriminate between people because you don't like them - perhaps okay at speed dating but may be a no no in a job interview).

Those who are offended though, that's the tricky part. Here's what you need to know about being offended: How you feel is your fault.

How you feel is your fault.

How YOU feel is YOUR fault.

You get to choose how you react, people with 'emotional maturity' or rather 'self control' generally can exercise more control than people for which the concept of moderating our own behaviour is new probably don't realise all the choices they have available to them.

I take the 'how you feel is your fault' from Horstman's laws. He's a management consultant that has been known to tell his 'umbrella story'. That is three guys get into a lift and head for the top floor. The guy in front in the elevator has an umbrella tucked under his arm. Unbeknownst to him his umbrella's point is jabbing into Horstman behind him. Horstman at first rolls his eyes, but with each successive jab he gets angrier and angrier. Fortunately the guy with the umbrella gets off on an earlier floor. Horstman turns to his friend and says 'can you believe that guy, boy was he ticking me off.' and his friend says 'no, all that guy did was poke you with an umbrella, you got ticked off all by yourself.'

Profound, and I hope now you've heard the story second hand you don't soon forget it. Most people I feel would agree that if boy meets girl, boy gets girl, boy and girl get along for several years, girl dumps boy, boy gets upset, boy murders ex-girlfriend then the boy is entirely responsible for his own actions and getting murdered was not the product of the girls decision to break up with somebody she didn't love anymore. I certainly hope you agree.

This is commonly called an overreaction, other examples are when you get called by a telemarketer and blow your stack at some poor kid or foreigner who is just trying to make a living from the best opprtunity available. Or perhaps when you are the last Masterchef contestant chosen for a team challenge. It even includes when a call center employee misinterprets some respondent blowing their stack as personal criticism and gives them some back.

All these people can choose how they react, or they are machines with hardwired routines they follow. People aren't machines, behaviour is a choice, with the rare exception of mental illness. If you are picked last for a team you can either A) acknowledge that somebody had to be picked last. or B) take it personally and say 'stuff yous all'.

If your girlfriend dumps you, you can A) have a cry and move on with your life. or B) fly into a rage and call your girlfriend a slut, bitch, whore whatever. or C) fly into a rage and beat your girlfriend. or D) kill your girlfriend.

ANd just in order to clarify, there are right and wrong answers to the questions of how to react. (A in the above examples).

There are right and wrong answers to how to react even when somebody offends your deepest held beliefs.

I'm an athiest and honestly I don't respect religious beliefs. I have a right not respect religious beliefs. I have a right not to respect moral beliefs. I do respect vegans, but I don't want to be one. People eat cheese all over the place, but you never see Vegans taking to the street and burning people alive over cheese consumption. Even though to a vegan (conscientious vegans, not health vegans), the cheese industry means the ongoing rape of millions of animals daily.

Furthermore, I don't think many people appreciate how offensive religious practices are to an athiest. I can't speak on behalf of all athiests of course, but I can quote one that sums up my own personal feelings:

There is in fact no worldview more reprehinsible in its arrogance than that of a religious believer: the creator of the universe takes an interest in me, loves me, and will reward me after my death; my current beliefs, drawn from scripture, will remain the best statement of truth until the end of the world; everyone who disarees with me will spend eternity in hell... An average Christian, in an average church, listening to an average Sunday sermon has achieved a level of arrogance simply unimaniginable in scientific discourse-and there have been some extraordinarily arrogant scientists.

Now Sam Harris is writing about the 'Christian Nation' of the USA, and it is not my intention to have a dig at 'believers' here. The quote simply points out a simple fact, that as an athiest there are a lot of people walking around that are okay with the entity they love most in the world torturing me for all eternity. I'm not particularly scared of this outcome, because I don't believe it exists, but when I think about it (if I can be bothered) it IS offensive that people think this God is a great guy despite his sociopathic narcissism. I'm also frankly offended that there's people in the world who don't think eternal damnation is sufficient and that I should be killed for my herecy now in a brutal and violent way.

Fact are facts, and the fact is, I find this belief held by people offensive, just as surely as they hold my deeply held belief that their is no god and their life has no intrinsic purpose aside from the context they choose to give it, offensive.

But many, many of us whether you believe in God or not can coexist side by side, simply because we choose how to react. I'm never going to suggest that religious believers be purged from the earth, or tortured or punished in some way. I could, but I don't want to. I see it as counterproductive, it also seems most people of faith also see it this way. People who react violently to blaspheme are fortunately rare or fortunately isolated in the global community.

To me, nationalism is a more pressing concern, and above that those economic beliefs that have almost religious status - like the Neo-classical reverence for the free market which has now destroyed more American lives than Islamic fundamentalism ever did.

My intellectual forebears have put up with centuries of shit, from being tortured and killed by the Spanish Inquisition, to being incarcerated, to choosing suicide over chemical castration, to being assasinated in a theatre for opposing slavery.

I'm for freedom, and being offended is part of being free and living in a free society. There's no particular virtue in being offensive, but people have a right to be offensive. You have an obligation to handle your offense with dignity and self control no matter how sensitive or emotionally invested you are.

People are not obliged to self-censor so as to create a cotton wool world. As Thomas Jefferson said:

I am really mortified to be told that, in the United States of America, a fact like this can become a subject of inquiry, and of criminal inquiry too, as an offence against religion; that a question about the sale of a book can be carried before the civil magistrate. Is this then our freedom of religion? and are we to have a censor whose imprimatur shall say what books may be sold, and what we may buy? And who is thus to dogmatize religious opinions for our citizens? Whose foot is to be the measure to which ours are all to be cut or stretched? Is a priest to be our inquisitor, or shall a layman, simple as ourselves, set up his reason as the rule for what we are to read, and what we must believe? It is an insult to our citizens to question whether they are rational beings or not, and blasphemy against religion to suppose it cannot stand the test of truth and reason.
- Letter to Nicolas Gouin Dufief, Philadelphia bookseller (1814) who had been prosecuted for selling the book Sur la Création du Monde, un Systême d'Organisation Primitive by M. de Becourt, which Jefferson himself had purchased.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Market Research

Having recently talked up working in a call centre allow me to now talk it back down. Well, not really but many of my colleagues + facebook friends often complain about the job, and I hope they are complaining about the job itself.

My employers a good one as far as market research goes, we have opportunities to give feedback direct from the coalface to the clients and researchers that write our questionaires and so fourth and frankly I'm not privvy to what goes on behind the curtain so I'm not really qualified to comment.

Suffice to say, I'm not really convinced of the merits of the whole industry of market research myself. I'm qualified in marketing and plan to spend vast parts of my future not using these qualifications at all. Not because I hate marketing, I hate the practice of marketing rather than the exciting soft science that it is.

My experience of marketing is that people who are 'professional' marketers are most often brought in to be paid to agree with whatever manager or exec thinks is a good idea as to how their advertising campaign should run. Typically this results in some engineering marvel that is impenetrable to the general public (like ABS braking in the 90's) featuring front and center in your advert and being referred to in lingo with no demonstrations of its actual benefits.

Or as I tried to do in my limited capacity - you point out to the exec or manager attempting to employ your professional endorsement that their idea is in fact terrible they roll over you.

You'd think market research would thus be impenetrable, the survey is vast, statistically significant with questions written to guaruntee data is comparable. So surely this would thwart any executive hoping to blow some money paying somebody to agree with them. The data doesn't lie now does it?

Well this is just hearsay, but I've heard of a manager at an unnamed Market Research firm with international operations recieve a call from clients requesting that they 'change the results'.

Now at my company if I got busted falsifying data by the manager I'd be fired, at the least suspended or sent home. But here the client is telling management to simply change the results of the research because they don't like what the research suggests. In effect making all that industry compliance and expense entirely unneccessary. A complete fucking waste of time.

But that's not even the reason I question the relevance of the entire industry. Statistical studies like the census and some of the surveys I work on are potentially legit estimating measures but market research broadly speaking is designed to overcome 'qualitative' issues, not by and large 'quantitative' ones.

That is, trying to find out how people feel, what they like, what they want etc. Changing or modifying a product is risky business. So naturally those assuming the risk want to hedge their bets. So they go interview the existing fans, the existing non fans see if they can find any consensus on improvement and then implement those changes. (to oversimplify the process greatly).

What has me doubting all this is Tool. Specifically Tool fans.

Tool Fans all have something in common, they like Tool. They fork out actual money for tool albums and tool concert tickets. But after that the common ground starts shrinking.

Here is my question? Could market research produce tool? That is in a world where there was no Tool, by interviewing the people that constitute tools fanbase would they be able to identify what was lacking in the music industry that they crave?

To me, this is as unlikely as a hurricane whipping through junkyard and assembling a fully functional Boeing 747 - and not actually too dissimilar a process.

You may not know tool, you may not know toolfans but you may be able to relate to my experience. My experience is that whilst all toolfans like tool, almost all toolfans don't like toolfans. Maybe its more accurate to say they don't really relate to eachother, they are not a group of people that would naturally congregate in large numbers without the central point of tool.

Even if you reduce toolfans to the group of 6 or so peeps I go to their concerts with, I don't think a study even focus groups or whatever would produce a description of Tool when it came to collating our common desires for music.

I feel like I'm poorly articulating this, so let me talk about diversification and aggregate average expertise. Diversification is most commonly associated with investment, it means spreading your assets as widely as possible to counteract market volatility. This reduces your risk. In other words, you have a company ABC and company XYZ, when ABC moves up, XYZ generally moves down and vice versa. By having the two assets in your portfolio it means that any fall in value of XYZ is offset completely by a gain in ABC - this lay description is called 'portfolio theory' where the ideal is to achieve a capital gain of zero. This is attractive because it protects your principal (the cash you invested in the first place and would be returned to you if you sold out) but you would still earn all your dividends so your net investment is positive.

Warren Buffet says 'diversification is the best way to ensure you don't make any money at all' which is true, but risk = volatility therefore positive and negative deviations most people are more afraid of losing than they are of gaining.

Now aggregate expertise. I am an expert on South Dakotan Ornithology, you are an expert in WAM! cover bands. We are both world class experts, but completely ignorant of eachothers fields. If somebody was to interview one of us, they would achieve 100% good feedback in one field, and 100% complete garbage feedback in the other. If a researcher interviewed both of us they would get 50% valid feedback in both fields.

Now generally of all the vague 'subjects' or 'fields' one can have expertise in, chances are we are going to be complete dunces in most of them. The fields we are not expert in are so numerous as to dwarf the fields we are. Our average expertise is something incredibly close to 0.

Thus the sample of people in this case is like the diversification in an investment portfolio. The more people you add the closer the quality of the feedback will approach 0. Although it needs to be pointed out that it depends on how specific the field of interest is.

But for something like creating a band that will sell big to a dedicated subculture, I feel it would be rather like dumping rubbish infront of hurricanes in the hope that something resembling a jet will be assembled.

Fans of things will probably differ in their reasons for why they like things, furthermore I believe there is a substantial body of research suggesting that people don't even know what it is they do like. Perhaps most famously the 'let your taste decide' Pepsico campaign, which measured people's subjective experience of cola sweeteners but not their actual preferences. Their actual preferences were for Coca-cola.

I thus have little faith in market research's role in any creative process. As my old marketing lecturer pointed out even with focus groups 'you don't know if 1 in 100 person's opinion is actually valid.' it is furthermore a return to subjectivity to actually sift through and get the 'really great' feedback out.

My experience is that the most valid opinion usually belongs to the person actually responsible for creating something. Focus groups, test audiences etc I feel are of little benefit. I also suspect it is this aggregating effect that makes User Generated Content so overhyped.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Do Women Hate Men?

Andrew Denton: You said in 'The Female Eunuch' that women have little idea how much men hate them. Is that still true?

Germaine Greer: Yep. Otherwise they wouldn't get killed all the time, would they?

Andrew Denton: People get killed for many reasons.

Germaine Greer: No, but women get killed at home, most often by their partners.

Andrew Denton: Is it…

Germaine Greer: At a rate which is absolutely astounding. I mean, in Britain it's two women a week killed by their partner. That's a shocking statistic.

Andrew Denton: As a statement in relationships, however, do you believe that to be true, that…that there is a hatred from men towards women?

Germaine Greer: Yep. I think…

Andrew Denton: In what way?

Germaine Greer: ..all men hate some women some of the time and some men hate all women all of the time, and there are every gradation in between those two extremes.

Andrew Denton: Is it that gender-specific, men towards women, or is it… And why is that gender-specific, why does it go that way?
link via

here's where I'll opportunistically jump in. In my experience, for any man who cultivates his own masculinity - the body hair, facial hair, ear hair, callouses - basically a mighty lumberjack the most common result is mancrushes.

Do women actually dig masculinity? Do they dream of laying down by the fire in a log cabin and running their hands through thick curls of chest hair? Do they wistfully imagine some domestic bliss future where a man is at hand to open jars and bottles with his teeth?

These are all very impressive things to men. But they seem to have limited appeal to women. I can understand the marketing forces that are emasculating men, trying to make them feel fat ugly and poorly attired... it's profitable, as potentially profitable as making women feel fat ugly and poorly attired.

But is this marketing push 'going with the flow' of 'what women want' and that is presumably not men*.

I guess it's understandable that people want lambs instead of lions (except with manes on their chest) if they are getting eaten by lions all the time.

*but I assume is also not a drunken anti-semitic man.

La-Limbo Land

Janice asked my 2nd degree Ex (Who I will dub 'monkey hands' for fun) what she thought of my regression. The regression being that I was at university and back working casual in a market research call center. This is regression because back in 2004-'03 some time I was at uni and working casual in a market research call center.

In the intervening years I had a full time job and a 'promising' career. I don't know what monkey hands said, or more likely I don't remember monkey hands answer. Anyway that's not so much the point as having an opportunity to call monkey hands 'monkey hands' was the point of that anecdote.

The implication of Janice's question is, that there is some kind of scorecard, and rather than simply being able to progress through life we can somehow regress forwards through life. I would be regressing if knowledge was not cumulative in nature and I was attending some Nietzschien institution of 'unlearning' where the end result was being stripped of my qualifications whilst simultaneously having my mind whiped of my experiential development at Honda whilst the economic benefits were undone.

The economic benefits cannot be undone, I can only consume them or possibly gamble them away. At best I could be shortchanged with mere 'psychic income' like the 'thrill' of lottery tickets or gambling to show for my savings. Then knowledge is cumulative, true economics and marketing might contradict eachother but they are not irreconcilable. Infact I plan to take the fulcrum of economics 'the rational utility maximiser' and simply expand that sentence out into everything I know (know I don't know) about people's minds from marketing.

So 'regression' is not the word. I'm progressing. One may have noticed that last year where my 'progression' through life took on the aspect of 'drifting' (to the superficial observer) I was obsessed with failure and losing. I still am.

I'd like to talk about my call center work though. It's wonderful. I mean the work itself is not wonderful, intellectually stimulating or particularly rewarding. No! What is wonderful about it is the pool of talented young people that work there.

It's ironic, but far from losers that may form the charectirization of such professions in political discourse and popular media. The majority of call center workers (in Australia) are young people undertaking higher education studies trying to accumulate savings and earn disposable income whilst covering their living expenses.

One may be tempted to call them 'ordinary decent folk' whom due to unfortunate economic circumstances are the recipients of misdirected anger from other 'ordinary decent folk' who alas cannot distinguish between the diaspora of telemarketers who cumulatively aggrevate them.

But this is inaccurate. It is inaccurate because having been priveledged to 'regress' I have come to appreciate how extraordinary these quasi-young people are.

I say quasi because 'young' is a relative concept. I find them generally to be young, whereas there are coworkers in my call center that would shunt me into the young category, furthermore I can certainly imagine younger people than the people I work with.

Now, to talk about the 'extraordinary' part, I shall sidestep a bit and raise another anecdote myself and for lack of a fun moniker to conceal identities we'll call Not-bryce. I was visiting Not-bryce in melbourne one year back when I was a Balifornian through and through (and always will be!) and she was talking about how great the Rockestedford is. Now naturally the Rockestedford involving choreography and general 'gay-ness' in the teenage balifornian sense and let's face it, probably in a literal sense too, is the kind of event I was not into (and never will be, largely because of the choreography which I fear and not homosexuals, which I don't, unless its Omar from 'The Wire' and that is because of his tendency to shoot people with guns which I also fear, the homosexuality is coincidental.) Anyway, my scepticism that the Rockestedford is great must have been plain on my face, because Not-bryce began talking about how great it was to be around the positive energy and youthful exuberence... or something and I said (being facetious you understand) 'yeah, they haven't had their dreams crushed yet!'
Not-bryce didn't find this as funny as I evidently did and some kind of tirade followed, I know Not-bryce doesn't like me paraphrasing or misrepresenting her so I won't attempt to recall and reproduce the details. (Alas, i've always quickly forgotten criticism anyway).

Now, back on track. Or the quasi-track at least. What is extraordinary about the quasi-young people I work with, and infact this extends to even the quasi-old people I work with: 'they haven't had their dreams crushed yet.' (In some ways the old people at the call center are more extraordinary but that would take me off the quasi-track).

I understand now when I was this sonny-jim-whipper-snappers age why periodically extraordinary quasi-old people (and we are talking quasi-60 year olds here) would treat me like I was a breath of fresh air, like I was a genius. Unfortunately at the time I took their violent likitude of me as endorsement of my theory that I was some kind of genius. I throw out this theory now in favor of my new theory. It wasn't something they saw I had, it was something they saw I lacked. That sinical world view that my wildest dreams are impossible.

Alas, every test group needs a control group. Before I introduce them I want to put in a caveat as insurance against you, the readers ego, narcisistically reading some insult into this. I'm of the general view that as we get older our physical or chronological age becomes diminishingly reliable as an indicator of our age both physically and mentally. Another insight my job affords me is that I talk to a wide range of people between the ages of 16-100 eache night. The number of times I assumed I was talking to a 40 year old and they have turned out to be 75 is roughly on par with the number of times I've talked to a 70 year old and they turned out to be 40. So certainly there are exceptions...

...but generally: What I call quasi-young is between the ages of 19-24. For the purposes of this post, quasi-old is about 25-35. And since it's getting tedious I'm going to drop all the 'quasi' talk.

The control group is 25-35 year olds. Now a lifetime of romcoms about perpetual bridesmaids and former SNL cast members that can't grow up and what not prepared me for the depressing period of life which is where all the people you knew start to get married and settle down to a life less ordinary. In much the same way that my primary school teachers invested a not-insubstantial amount of time preparing me to deal with the peer-pressure that would get me hooked on smoking (including role plays) this advice turned out to A) exagerate the threat and ii) was delivered too late to those whom it bore the most relevance.

The majority of my friends as I head into this 'old' phase are not depressing because they are getting married. They are depressing because their lifestyles imply that their dreams have either 1) been crushed or C) where never ambitious to begin with.

Infact, I remember another Balifornian dialogue with a peer, let's call him Donut-burns that was about the life ambitions of yet another peer, let's call him Sticky-date. Donut-burns professed that Sticky-dates life ambition was to 'get married settle down and raise kids'. Now given my memory may not be too reliable now that I am old, Donut-burns wittily evaluated that this dream was 'admirable, but fairly dead end.'

So to be charitable, let's admit that society is comprised of individuals, the human-race infact, and like a combustion engine powered auto-mobile most of it's energy is going to be exerted just moving itself. Similarly for the propulsion of the human race we need some critical mass of the individuals in our society to expend their lives simply raising the next generation of individuals.

'We can't all be Ghenghis' in other words. But I feel I am being charitable.

I'm also getting ahead of myself. While I am regressing, and having the priveledge of working with young people. My old peers are 'progressing' (according to Janice) by knuckling down on their careers.

Furthermore, rather than giving up party-bachelor lifestyles and getting married, they are giving up party-disposable-income lifestyles and buying houses. This I never anticipated. The only person that warned me of this held a minority position. Ironically they were also one of the minorities to predict the collapse of US real-estate which caused the GFC. It was Peter Schiff who made the claim 'it used to be two-people got married and bought a house. Now people buy a house and get married, they have two houses they gotta sell one of them!' (paraphrasing).

This depresses me. Why? Well that was explained to me by Germaine Greer in a book that hails from the days when people got married then bought a house. 'Insecurity as freedom'. A mortgage is an ongoing financial obligation, an investment that carries with it risk. The major risk people worry about is defaulting, since an amortised mortgage loan treats the asset as collatoral. So if you default on your loan and the bank forecloses they take your home, house and land.

This has a depressing observable effect. People's risk tolerance goes down. They BELIEVE they CAN'T walk away from their jobs (not realising that they CAN, lose their house and in reality actually don't want to. I'm of the somewhat stalwart opinion that these people misdirect their anger at their employers whereas their insecurity and lack of bargaining power is in fact, by their own choice).

Most people when I hit them with the financial equivalent of 'legalese' (I don't know what it's called yet) brush it off and tell me they aren't buying a house for 'Financial Security' but for 'Residential Security' the basic human need for shelter.

Alas, security is security and either way you get it. People don't realise that being locked into a property is almost* the same as locking yourself into a job. But instead of signing a 20-40 year contract with your boss that says 'this contract is open to renegotiation pending the agreement by both parties (employer and employee)' which in general is a provision for payrises and promotions, you effectively sign one that says 'this contract is open to renegotiation pending the agreement of one party us!(not you)'

Of course the actual contract is with a bank, the aforementioned onesided contract is a hypothetical illustration of your diminished negotiating power.

Blah, too much housing talk tohm. What's so depressing about being locked into a career? That is this security that denies freedom? Well let's just say I've always found something miserably depressing about the heirarchy of professions according to private-secondary-school students. That is Doctors and Lawyers at the top, moving down to Dentists (first losers) and Actuaries, Accountants and Engineers ... Telephone Booth Cleaners (soon to be redundant).

I find it miserable because surely, surely a young person can gaze higher than doctors and lawyers. They could want to be Steve Jobs, Warren Buffet, Slash, Michael Jordan... uh... Madonna! They could in fact want to be actual stars instead of just the highest paid regular joes. Most careers that can afford a mortgage rule out the prospect of being a true star, those careers are high risk. The payment is binary - you either get paid Bazillions or you don't get paid at all. Furthermore the distribution is not equitable, it's winner takes all, 99% earn $0 and 1% earn the Brazillions.

These are professions you only embark upon if you are a delusional dreamer. They are undertaken by 6) people who grossly miscalculate the odds of success or B) people who are not phased by the prospect of failure. I somewhat narcisistically would describe myself as the later and as having been the former (back when I was young).

Most of the young people I mix with are the former. The call center work is just a stepping stone, so too are their chosen careers. They may be undertaking studies (or saving for) some career more conventional, but they don't see their performance as being conventional. Their career too is some stepping stone to higher dreams where houses, partners and babies are all afterthoughts not pressing concerns.

This is refreshing, invigorating, uplifting. If I was sinical I would anticipate that these quasi-young folk will in due course become old folk. They will embark bright eyed on their career before they experience that congested highway to nowhere - the pyramid organisational chart where for every promotion there are 3 (and possibly limitless) contenders. If you will (and I'm aware I'm starting to strain metaphores) most (office) workplaces are the organisational equivalent of a freeway where instead of having 5 lanes for every onramp has 3 onramps for every lane (and if you get off this one without finding another one your house explodes).

If we strain that metaphore and find our stepping stone in the bottom, what I find is that the transition from 'young' to 'old' is where that stepping stone starts weighing you down dragging you to the bottom of your dream-continueum rather than propelling you towards the stars.

Confused? I am.

The caveats! Chances are if you are reading this and know me personally, don't worry you are probably not one of them 'old fogies' between 25-36 that I'm talking about. I pick my friends carefully, and ordinary don't typically make the cut. Enough of this blatent sycophancy, remember I also said age isn't a reliable guide?

That 25-36 isn't a reliable guideline either. My dreams have not yet been crushed, even the ones that have, I don't care because I don't fear the failure as much as I fear not trying. I live in the 'Limbo land' of age, I know I am not as young as these nipperkins I work with, I'm not finishing my first degree and trying to line up depressing office jobs with perplexing enthusiasm being excited at how much more exciting working in an office will be compared to working in a call center in an office.

However I am also not ready to accept gracefully that I am old and go talk to a bank about how exciting it will be to establish a foothold in the housing market (facetiousness warning), a market so promising the bank needs to lend me money to buy into it rather than just buying into it itself with the same money it is going to lend me anyway, but with presumably higher yeilds it wouldn't have to share with me!(end facetiousness). Thus I am stuck in limbo, my body deteriorates but my mind stays fresh and delusional. But almost anybody can come to Limbo-land, all you have to do is dream.

Secondly, this post began with Janice pointing out my regression. I used to work in a Market Research call-center that no longer exists in Melbourne. I hope I don't come across as honestly believing that having your dreams crushed is inevitable. In fact I believe we can only crush our own dreams, explicitly or implicitly (by seeking security in one form or another). My old call center was stepping stone to band members of Barbarion, Skybombers and Temper Trap. Band members I all worked with and I was only there 8 months. They are only the successful stone-steppers that will have something sweet and real to show for their existence to their children or mentees that I know of. But for a room that only employed 100 people or so 5 of which I am quasi in-touch with, that seems like a lot.

So keep dreaming!

*but not-quite I will concede this much.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

The Hardest Part of my day

Is deciding what to have for lunch. Seriously. I lack inspiration, I want something new and I never feel like anything. My intuition, my gut gives me no guidance. I miss having friends like Hwang and Andy that I could get to make decisions for me.

Compared to lunch, life is a cakewalk.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Retail Snobbery

Apparantly in Japan Prada employees are getting fired for being too ugly. This reminded me of a story Today Tonight or ACA ran on retail snobbery. That is customers getting treated differently based on how they look.

I can't remember the detail of the stories but basically they took two (very) average looking volunteers around to a bunch of stores like LV, CC, D&G whatever and had a hidden camera filming how hard it was for the volunteers to get any assistance from the shop's staff. Then they sent in their good looking agent who would get private tours and lots of help from the staff.

The basic explanation for the disparity was that these brands didn't want the business or money of the average looking mere mortals. But I don't accept this thesis. I'd like to propose a simple alternative.

A store is a store, and money is money. In theory my money is as good as yours. These companies are out to make a profit, thus they want to make sales. So I reject the notion that these stores (head office at least) don't want to sell their products to just about anyone who can pay.

I wonder if these volunteers would actually pony up the cash in this experiment if they were sincere about buying the goods.

But that's neither here nor there. Whilst a store is a store and money is money, so too are retail jobs just retail jobs. You walk past these boutique stores (or in my case, coast by on a bicycle) and look at the retail staff and I often think 'there are no retail specialists, and if there are they would be car salesmen and real estate agents. No there is no real difference between the shop assistents here and the shop assistents in Just Jeans.'

Skills are not a high barrier to entry for a retail job. Thus retail employees are kind of a commodity, just like Surgeons aren't. You don't need a university degree to stand around a shop folding things and handling the occassional customer enquiry. Thus I don't imagine these boutique brands need to pay their staff much more than say Just Jeans or Target. Furthermore, since there's so many people who would prefer to work in a store at an hourly rate over a call center, I imagine the employer gets their pick and their criteria is based on looks.

Who then are the people that want to work in a store where you have to dress up everyday and look the part over a store where you can wear jeans and a tshirt?

I haven't done my research here, but I would guesstimate the people you will get handing in their resume to these boutique brands are people that believe in the brands.

That is, the primary attraction is not whatever premium wages are available (I'd be surprised if they even existed) but the chance to A) get a discount on the stores goods and B) associate with the prestigious brand.

The job is otherwise shitty. Long hours of standing around being bored, not much pay and a dress code. But it does give you a chance to be with the beautiful people.

These high-end retail outlets are sold on a story: status symbols. That is, these are the brands used by successful people. It's why they use holiwood stars in their promotions and cultivate an image of exclusivity.

Thus, when Joe average walks in off the streets and suggests he can just buy a D&G handbag, it is a direct confrontation of what these employees believe. They are an affront. They suggest these brands aren't for the successful, the beautiful, the sophisticated but any man and his dog so long as he can afford to pay.

Thus they try to ignore them and hope they go away. Their mere presence offends every belief that lead them to take on this shitty job. They are challanging the very values of the brand. Hence, they snob them, against the better interests of the brand, the brands owners and the stores bottom lines.

They give beautiful people the grand tour because they conform to their beliefs about the brand. Their universe is in harmony when a well dressed buxom blonde lady walks in in stillettos and asks for a handbag to carry her toy-dog around in.

Unfortunately, the economics these brands exploit so they don't have to pay premium wages (to compensate for the hassle of dressing up for work each day) also in turn attract people who will refuse to sell the brand to anyone who doesn't fit their preconcieved notions.

Of course, maybe in the long run, this will work out to the brands economic best interests. I mean if you have too many ugly people as walking billboards for your brand, nobody will want your brand anymore. Otherwise known by one of my favorite marketing terms: 'prole-drift'

Friday, May 14, 2010

What's Wrong with Comics?

Recentishly, I came out and said that I feel in the long run the Western Sphere of comics will probably stave off the Japanese Comic invasion. Although this view is contentious I'll stick to my guns, because to adopt the contrary stand requires me to reject my first hand experience with not just Japanese comics and the fanbase that sustains them but almost all of Japan's post meiji history.

Having said that, there is a lot wrong with Western comics. So lacking time today to do any productive drawing I thought I'd slap together a bitch list of every trend I find disturbing and wish to see purged. I don't think this is necessarily a destructive process nor is it necessarily a constructive process. It was Johnny Rotten's hatred of Pink Floyd that inspired Punk Rock, was that a success or a disaster? I don't know. What I do know is what I like, and when I look at western comics I see a lot I don't like.

1 Universes.

This one goes way back and was observed by my brother. The problem with both Marvel and DC is that all their titles exist in the one Universe. Spiderman lives next door to Daredevil who both jump around in the shadow of the fantastic 4's tower.
So too is Gotham City up the coastline from Metropolis and somewhere to either side is The Flash's stomping ground of Star City.
In some ways the Marvel Universe is more understandable than DC's, as almost all their flagship titles were created by Stan Lee in conjunction with some other artists however it is arguably less cohesive than DC's having mutants, lab accidents and magicians populating this super powered world.
DC makes less sense, because most of it's big names came from completely different creators at completely different times (well it would have looked that way, at the time) and 'Detective Comics' just would have bought them up, one by one.
This tradition probably explains why comic culture influence is such one way traffic. To fresh eyes the Marvel and DC comic book universe must seem like one incomprehensible mess. Thus 'Dues Ex Machina' plot resolutions crop up that actually shouldn't be if you understand the tradition. But even to me who could probably pick out with a fair degree of success which characters are marvel's domain, which are DC's and whose are neither the appearance of 'people of the marvel world' in unexpected places just comes across as sloppy writing. There's just too much crammed into series that are running too long.
Of course this tradition also provides opportunities, and certain individuals can craft masterpieces out of it that you couldn't in another field. But as Watchmen proves, you can do this without actually using the pre-existing cast of some fantasy universe and parody/deconstruct it successfully.

2. Events, Events, Events...

Which follows on directly, there's no logical (from a storytelling point of view) to put Batman and Superman in the same little booklet. One's a spaceman with phenomenal powers representing truth justice and the american way, another is a billionaire playboy superspy waging a holy war against (traditionally) gimmicky criminals. Why mix sci-fi characters with James Bond? The answer is to boost sales. I'm sure this is the true origin of the DC and Marvel universe. (even Image do it). The other reason being that you invent a character as a villain to a pre-existing hero then when they get a positive reception you spin them off as an anti-hero with their own title.
But 'crossovers' are the true impetus (I feel, I haven't done my research) for the Marvel and DC universe. Largely so unpopular or new titles could piggyback off the flagship titles and furthermore to generate excitement that boosts sales.
I call these crossovers 'events' and they are dominating shelf space of western comic books.
I would reject the suggestion that events 'allow multiple writers to coordinate and plan long term plot developments that create new and interesting scenarios for the readers' because they A) seldom do and B) this is what writers should be doing anyway, regardless of whether an event is going on.
DC seem addicted to them, Marvel probably are as well. But alas they are just sales promotions, and these are fundamentally addictive. In Oz we have the popular department store Myers, Myers is addicted to sales, it has the 'permanent sale' and its a kind of trap retailers can fall into. That is if you have sales promotions too often you adjust your customers expectations upwards. Suddenly instead of experience short term boosts to sales, you experience short term drop-offs whenever you don't have a sale. Instead of experiencing any benefits, you are trapped into slashing your prices (margins/mark-ups) just to keep pace with business as usual.
Same same for comics, I'm sure when the crossover event was first concieved (crisis on infinite earths?) it looked like sales genius. I'm sure by now they are desperately trying to concieve of annual events that can hamstring all their writers into doing something big epic, messy and ultimately dissappointing.
That's what I dislike the most, I'm sure any artist or writer working on their own baby would still leap at the chance to contribute something to the legendary icons of the industry, if only temporary. But instead of having free reign to put their spin on things they have to have Batman fighting off an invasion of Magenta-lanterns from quadrent QZX because that is the big event of the year designed to peg a bunch of unpopular titles to the coattails of the popular ones.

3. Artist dominated/Writer unfriendly.

One of the few advantages of having DC and Marvel is that they can force young upcoming artists to actually let somebody else write their comics. As my brother points out (he aspires to write screenplays, movies... anything but comics) what artist wouldn't want to work on their own stories rather than something written by somebody else?
I mean it's understandable, but I think this attitude particularly in the independant scene keeps a lot of good writers out, in starbucks writing for overcompetitive media like movies and novels. This A) helps to illegitimise comic books as a medium and B) produces routinely terrible writing.
So in a rare reversal of institutional thinking, Marvel not wanting to let an artist write the plot of the next spiderman in favor of one guy who writes 12 titles a month actually sets up an economy of scale. One great writer can produce 3-5 times the great comics than fishing around for the rare combination of somebody who can write really well and draw real good too.
In theory at least. I don't like Mark Miller's stuff personally but maybe he will demonstrate that comic book writing can be a back door into the movie industry. He certainly demonstrates (to me at least) how easy it is to look like a writing genius in this medium. I would argue that Mark Miller is simply the 'tallest pigmy' right now. Again though it's hard to say how many of the writers that look terrible nd create the impression of low writing standards are actually just hamstrung by sales executive demands that they develop messy blockbuster crossover plots with as many cameos as possible.

4. Desperately seeking validation

The adaptation of movies into comic books makes sense, they have an existing fan base so its low risk. They come with the story board all worked out. They even have a large sample of audience tested plot variations for directors and writers to pick and choose from for their screenplay examples.
This has worked well for the Spiderman, Batman and Iron Man franchises (up to a point). But Sin City, 300 and Watchmen? These were pretty much 'faithful adaptations' with Sin City even giving a directors credit to Frank Miller since it was almost frame for frame copy of the original comic.
You could argue this makes sense too, you have the same pre-existing fan base and a tested comic. It's a no risk way to make a film.
But if that logic holds why not just produce a comic book of every proposed movie and release it to the public before greenlighting a big screen adaptation of it? Can you imagine pre-movie release comic book versions of Avatar and the Hurt Locker? Yes! Did they do them? No.
Arguably they should have. It's a low cost thus, low risk way to audience test the potential market for a film before producers have to fork over the money.
Precisely because this practice hasn't been adopted suggests a heirarchy. A heirarchy that says the ultimate achievement for the comic book medium is to be adapted into a live action film.
So many have been adapted though, that if you take the few commercial and critical successes you are left with a swamp full of bloated corpses. Punisher, Hulk, Batman's 3-5 (and arguably Batman Begins), the fantastic 4. Why do authors and artists aspire to have comic books made into movies?
I feel its because they seek validation, comic books are dorky, a subculture and they desperately crave approval from the broader public. Just because a lot of people went to see Sin City though didn't make it any less uncool.
So long as comic book creators keep this heirarchy in their minds, comic books will never be legitimate as a medium. The same is present in fiction writing, but it isn't as all pervasive. The same people who salivate over Harry Potter adaptations are probably the same people that salivate over a Watchmen big screen adaptation. Just unlike books, you don't have a corresponding group who bemoan something like 'Where the Wild Things Are' being made into a movie.

Thursday, May 13, 2010


Where does creativity come from? I don't know. Everything I thought I know has been deconstructing in my mind into one massive inconsistency.

Reason tells me this: The more inputs, the more ideas, the more lateral your thinking the better the problem solving and problem solving is the creative process.

Thus things like the 'user generated content' should work. Market research should produce better products not worse ones. People who seek others opinions and feedback should be more creative not less.

But this isn't what I see going on. I call 'user generated content' driven by social networking platforms that have allowed people to distribute their own output in greater numbers than ever before 'loser generated content' for me the quality of music, movies, tv shows has in general gone down or remained constant. The best stuff seems to be coming from the same places it used to.

Or look at reality tv, all those model shows, America's Top Model, Search for a Supermodel is anybody looking at the outputs of these shows? They haven't produced any supermodels yet. A few models maybe, but it's debatable whether the vast pools of raw talent they tap into are better resources than what modelling agencies have used.

Same same for American Idol and it's global franchisees, it produces one middle of the road star a year overshadowed by the record companies promoted stars. Yet these are people that are voted on by vast numbers of the public.

It's consistent with Darwinian evolution, you take as many variables as you can and make them fight off against eachother, only a few will survive and they will be the ones that have the base qualities ideal for surviving in the given field.

Though I've never really been a fan of what I considered an ADD riddled technology in user generated content and reality tv, it is still a disillusionment to see it produce... well... next to nothing.

It leads me to one conclusion as to why this process is fundamentally flawed:

People don't know what they want.

Thus here is my actual experience. The more you intervene in somebodies creative process the (generally) worse the result. The more inputs you have, the more conservative the idea.

It would also seem that their are people out there call them 'talent pickers' or 'record execs' or 'art curators' etc that know what the public want better than the public itself does.

My best explanation for the two above phenomenas are thus and thusly:

1. Average expertise. Our average expertise in any given field is zero. When you take large samples in statistical studies you will find that the incidents cluster around the 'mean' or 'average' which will be zero. So the more people you involve in a creative process or creative vetting, the more likely you will diminish the value of the output.

2. Taste. In the crudest sense. Your hunger or appetite. You may be craving some chocolate now, but if you eat the equivalent quantity of chocolate as the sum of all your easter blessings, chances are you will feel sick. You will have no taste for chocolate and crave something new.

Both revolve around a sort of expertise. I feel reassured by these explanations because they have precedents in other fields. For example, investment. The more diversified your portfolio of shares as Warren Buffett puts it 'the greater your chances of making no money at all'. This is surprisingly consistent with Portfolio Theory which aims to correlate all your various investments so your net capital gain will be zero, you only make money off your dividends.

So in a creative process, the more inputs the more compromise between creative visions diverging from the average - the conventional/predictable vision. The net effect is that the competing divergences will cancel eachother out or compromise in such a way that the overall impact is reduced.

See what's crazy is that in shares you only like one kind of variation, the upwards kind. In creative processes you may like both, all you want to do is not be cliched. So why try to offset creative visions against eachother?

This is why I think the best results are the ones where you just let somebody go off on their own tangent and don't interfere or try and steer it back to appease more markets or whatever.

That handles the 'creatives' side of things, but that's no good as a revalation unless you can get to the decision makers, the ones who have the money, who hold the reins.

This is where the second kind of expertise, the taste comes in. The old model you had somebody who was the equivalent of a film critic or food critic picking the projects to give the green light. If you are film critic you have a different objective to the average movie goer. Same same for food critics.

They eat a lot of food, they see a lot of musics. They go to a lot of bands' gigs. They see a lot of highschool basketball. More than your average joe. Thus, the products all blur to them. They see the patterns and cliches of the time much faster than we do for sheer lack of exposure.

Sooner or later the only thing that catches their eye are things that are different, risky, they stand out. They know talent when they see it. They talk about 'it' but find it hard to define, because 'it' is simply something they haven't seen before.

The public by comparison, identifies with the familiar, they stayed, the known. They don't take risks, thus they role over the deviations because they don't identify with their pre-concieved notions of success. They like all the sugary candy because they aren't forced to eat/offered as much as the experts. They have no expertise and they were never going to try something as questionable as pesto unless somebody holds their hands.

Of course, it is relatively risk-free. Hence the success of a process that is uncreative. But creativity is all about risks, and the market generally pays a premium for risks. But this is the way the market works.

Sunday, May 09, 2010


Yo, I'm going to stop posting here for a while. I have things to write about, that I want to write about but alas the past few weeks have seen my drawing come to a standstill. The main culprit being school assessment. It's really pissing me off because it isn't hard, just coming in what I view as redundant quantities. I thought I'd jumped over the mid semester hurdle but I have round two coming in.

Now the blog has to be sacrificed, being a financial advisor I feel it would be hypocritical of me to fail classes I can easily pass, and writing posts take A) time and is B) easy, so in my free time I've been doing this instead of picking up a pencil.

So until calmer seas, adios amigos. If you are bored just read my previous post in installments, its really fucking long.

Saturday, May 08, 2010


An (un)interesting thing happened to me today. I woke up at about 8.45, showered, got on my bike and went to the library (after buying something for breakfast). There I sat at a computer and wrote my Money Markets report for Financial Markets from roughly 10 till 12. I went out and had lunch and was back at 12:45 where I continued to work on the report. I finished it (to first draft standard) just before the library closing time and emailed it off to the other group members with some suggestions of tweaking well before the due date.

I think as it stands it should be at least a 7 out of 10.

Now here's the funny thing, I walked out of the library and thought 'what a complete fucking waste of a day.' this seemed very natural to me. Then I had an epiphany, almost none of my friends (who mostly graduated from university) would not agree with me. They would typically describe a day where you sat at home not doing your assignment a complete waste of a day.

Most people would consider my efforts productive and thus the very anti-thesis of a complete fucking waste of a day.

Why does everybody else have this weird fucking mindset?

I can vaguely pin-point the moment I became obsessed with productivity. Sam (my older brother) got home in year 7 and Janice (eternal worrier, highly risk averse) questioned him as to whether he had any homework. He said he didn't, Janice didn't believe him.

A shouting match ensued, where no doubt Janice pointed out how much she was paying for Sam's shmancy (supposedly) education at his smarmy school that wear shit-coloured uniforms. Now whilst I'm fairly certain that Sam was lying, and just wanted to play computer games I weighed into the argument and said something like 'Janice, as if there's ever going to be a time where kids have no free-time, the world wouldn't work if that was the case.' and I don't remember if it panned out.

After that though, I became obsessed with homework. Not actually doing it, just whether it was necessary. I remain convinced it isn't. At the very least, not to the extent to which it is promoted.

Stress is a Fashion Accessory

Growing up in Ballarat I associated coffee with douchebags, back then we called them tryhards or yuppies. I hear my old school now has a cafe for students, so I expect it's douchebag population has increased, and it's chief export are douchebags.

Because I associated coffee drinking with being a nob, I set out to avoid aquiring a taste or getting the habit. Apparantly year 12 was stressful, maybe it was, I only ever found eustress never distress. It was stressful and time intensive. It ate up so much time that year 12 students were provided with complementary 'International Roast' instant coffee and an urn in their common room from which to drink shitty coffee to stay up all hours studying for.

Instead of opting for 'no-doze' or whatever I simply wanted to concieve of a way to avoid having to stay up all hours studying. Was their anyway I could reduce my workload?

Well the first point of call was to assess whether all the study was actually necessary. There had to be some give or take here, because our school had many extra curricular activities that were participated in by year 12 students (eg. sports) that generally outperformed the non-extra-curricular participating students. So obviously there was at least some quantity of study time that could be safely sacrificed to no great detriment. (Plus an argument to be made that opting to play a sport instead of increased study time actually improved your results).

But if that was the case, why was the perception that staying up late studying so necessary so prevelant? If people could determine the study was superfluous why did they all take up drinking coffee? Was coffee a fashion accessory?

One can roughly divide Ballarat's classes into two categories - 'social climbers' and 'bogans', most of my peers (and myself) were raised by social climbers. I feel great affection for bogans and almost none for social climbers. But social climbers are aspirational, they want to be more than they are. They wanted in short to be Melburnians. Sophisticated, classy globe trotters that drank fancy coffee's.

My parents and by extention everyone else drank coffee, I thought my parents were pretty uncool trying to order coffees with the correct Italian pronunciation, but I think most kids actually respect their parents. So yes, drinking coffee was grown up, kids want to be older than they are, bingo bango - you have an alternative hypothesis to why so many kids took up drinking coffee between year 11 and 12, and why my old school now has a cafe on premisis.

But then, why did the kids drink the international roast crap? And furthermore act all stressed? They should have been sipping machiatto's and talking about real estate (or more likely for the time, the fallout from the tech bubble), instead they were drinking crap and acting highly strung.

Now a caveat, not every body actually cared about VCE, that's just a fact, so the douchebags I'm talking about were the ones who perpetuated the myth that VCE is stressful and one has to work hard and lose hours of sleep.

Well, maybe coffee was fashionable for another reason? Back then, a parent didn't just offer a kid a cup of coffee in the morning. This has probably changed but I feel the perception was that caffeine is a drug, coffee stains your teeth and your precious children should stay off it for as long as they can. So maybe, just maybe kids needed a pretext to get on it, a legitimate excuse, an apology for taking it up. That excuse was VCE. Plus it's still aspirational/fashionable. Important people are stressed (in theory) and they lose sleep because they are fretting over decisions (in theory). If I'm stressed I'm obviously doing something important, something so important I have to drink copious amounts of shite instant coffe just to keep me awake. I am hardcore important.

This was my alternative thesis, the stress of VCE was overstated because it was fashionable to overstate it, it made a kid look and feel important. In just the same way that their can be a benefit to having a long term illness, it absolves you of responsibility. In the same way, being able to sit in your room reading a sci-fi book under the pretext of doing homework may also get a kid out of unpleasant chores.

Homework is Bullshit

Obviously somebody else had been looking at the VCE workload and asking whether it was necessary. Because as I commenced it we transitioned from 'CATs' to 'SACs' who cares what the acronyms stand for, CATs used to be a legitimate source of stress. They were what you would call 'projects' or 'assignments' tasks you had to complete over a period of time.

I never experienced them I'd just always hated projects. My brother told me CATs were easy because you could just hand in draft after draft until your teacher said it was worth an A.

but they got rid of CATs and replaced them with SACs, by comparison SACs had to be completed in class time. They were then cross assessed and rated to ensure no schools were setting too hard or too easy SAC tasks.

CATs were bad because they measured/rewarded the wrong thing - effort. I would have been at an inherant disadvantage because to my eternal gratitude my parents had never fostered a 'good' work ethic in me. Thus I just wasn't an 'effort' kind of guy.

Now my own personal inclinations does not, a good basis for education systems make. But when you have something that a student can take home and be rewarded for going to more effort than others creates problems. Namely, escalation, because scores are normally distributed and then adjusted statistically the harder people work (to try and gain an advantage) the harder everybody else has to work to maintain the same relative position.

Then you have the poverty gap, parents were not beyond paying tutors to give their kids an unfair advantage, or even pay tutors to do CATs for them. The system could be gamed. Secondly if you entertain the thought that education policy is primarily economic/vocationally motivated future employers have an interest in finding the students who produce results above and beyond people of the same resources. That is in a knowledge based economy, you want efficient minds. Fundamentally, resources are limited (relative to wants) thus employers may say, but they don't literally mean, people who do 'more' what they want are people that produce 'more' with 'less', this infact is the very definition of productivity.

Worst Counter-argument Ever

Every time I say that effort is overrated, people invariably tell me I'm different. 'It's different for you tohm, you're clever, you don't have to work as hard.' Not my words, just almost everybody else who figure it's easier to blow smoke up my arse than to admit they have wasted much of their lives trying to look busy and/or important.

I don't feel clever. In highschool I was not very good at maths. Admittedly my scores swung all over the place, A-D. English was my forte, but that's because its a bullshit subject assessed on a relatively arbitrary basis. Even Art had a better assessment model than English. I wasn't very good at languages (worst in my Japanese class). Was average at physics, and can't even remember the other classes I took (except of course Studio Art, but Art alas is actually 99% effort, 1% talent and I was a B in effort).

I feel I am possessed of average intelligence, due to my surroundings growing up and onwards I suppose what I consider average may be a bit above average, the point being I knew and know plenty of people smarter than I am.

I am not for example somebody who can answer this question in two seconds:

If I have 64 contestants in a Tennis match, how many matches do I need to schedule?

SO I think round one, you need 32 matches to pair everyone off. After round one you have 32 contestants knocked out, 32 contestants left in, round 2 you get 16 matches... aha! the number of matches halves each round, there must be some magic number it is asymptotic too, that it is going to approach somewhere a bit above the 3/4 mark... If I can just figure out the rule... okay so we have 32 plus 16... then the next round is going to be 8, 32 plus 16 plus 8. It's like that tiger paradox, where it can only walk half the distance home each day, except that's impossible because tennis tornaments end, I've seen them end...

The answer is 63 and somebody who is actually clever comes up with that answer in 2 seconds. They similarly will tell you in two seconds that if you have 4 contestants you need 3 matches, if you have 27 contestants you need 26 matches, if you have 36,842 contestants you need 36,841 matches.

They know this because their mind naturally sees the approach to the problem. I was thinking 'how many losers do we need to produce' a clever person relises instantly that a tournament produces 1 winner, and a match produces 1 loser. You need to end up with 1 winner so you need 1 match per contestant to make them a loser minus the winner. Hence you simply subtract 1 from the number of contestants, the one match where the eventual tournament winner is produced.

This story is illustrative in two ways - 1. It demonstrates the principle of 'work smart not hard' and 2. It demonstrates the benifits of inversion.

Employees and students can never hear 'work smart not hard' enough. If for no other reason than that the world doesn't need more hardworking arseholes depleting its scarce resources producing waste.

I'm not clever enough to apply inversion with mathematical models, but I was able to apply it cleverly to education itself. This is worthy of another subheading...

My Epiphany on Educational Productivity

I don't know what the a-ha moment was. But I can try and reverse engineer the thought process.

Imagine a student that wants to become a doctor or a lawyer. These university courses require high entrance scores (your second preference university may only accept you at 98, the score not the age). Such a student is going to be very averse to risks, they cannot afford an academic disastor or their dreams are dashed (or so they believe [or so they are taught/trained to believe]).

I was not such a student, but such a student with a risk averse mind set, a fear of failure is likely to adopt this approach 'what do I have to learn.' and given that they are risk averse and can't afford to fail, the answer is probably 'everything'.

As a teacher of mine used to say, 'if you do a million [maths] problems, you probably won't come across a problem you haven't seen before' which is good advice... if you are risk averse.

Here's how I came to my epiphany. My school was hellbent on achieving good results, it generally did. But this being a private school was its business. Our principal (a bit of a douchebag himself) had been known to show our VCE results in a presentation to parents considering enrolling their children in prep. (why not, helps pass the time).

I was no doubt helped by the fact that one hardly had to squint ones eyes at all to see my school was some dubious sort of business. The teachers were the employees, the students were some kind of raw material they turned into results that were sold to new customers.

The crucial thing was though, the teachers were employees. They had jobs, they had a job to do. Their job was take students and produce results. Their jobs literally depended not just on our passing, but achieving above average results, even if you will better results than our competition, my brothers school with the shit coloured uniforms.

My epiphany was literally this:

The teachers have to teach us, so they can only test us on what we have been taught. If they teach us stuff that doesn't help us pass the test its their failure not mine. The only thing I have to learn is what the teacher taut us.

I think it sounds brilliantly like a truism. Reading it one might question whether this was an epiphany at all. It seems so obvious. I didn't learn about inversion for about 6 years after graduating though, so whilst I appreciated the significance of this revelation, I didn't appreciate what a departure my reasoning was.

Remeber wannabe lawyer/doctor. They thought 'what do I have to learn?' I had inverted this and asked 'what do they have to teach?'. My answer, they can't teach us any less than is sufficient to get full marks on the exams. Now most teachers may fall short of full marks, but this was their aim their target. They couldn't go for just a pass, this was VCE they had aspiring doctors and lawyers to worry about and more relevant parents who wanted their kids to be doctors and lawyers and needed to pick a primary school to worry about.

A risk averse student is going to become fearful of nasty surprises, it is difficult to trust your teacher, after all the teacher doesn't have to live with your results, you do. Right? Wrong. It's much harder for a teacher to trust a student to teach themselves, this is why homework is fundamentally bullshit. A teacher is never going to delegate learning responsibility to a student. What if they teach themselves incorrectly? Everything of any import has to be taught in class time.

All I had to do was A) pay attention and B) check whether I was confident I understood what I'd been taught. If the answer was yes, (it usually was because I paid attention) I just went home played some computer looked at pornography via dial-up internet and went to bed. If not, I'd ask the teacher or maybe try some homework exercises but more likely just looked at the answers.

I was able to take a risk on my hypothesis because my brother had gotten either a 93 or 90.3 without much effort. Thus I figured worst case I was looking at a high 80's mark if my theory fell through. I was less scared of a lower ENTER score than I was of a higher one. Which brings me to my next big revalation of productivity.

Diminishing Returns

I studied economics in high school and this gave me my second great insight. 'The Law of Diminishing Returns' it's a microeconomic theory thaat states 'Profit is maximised when Marginal Revenue = Marginal Cost' I hate the word 'Marginal' because I associate it with obscure electoral seats. I prefer incremental.

Basically it means, you want to get a bunch of t-shirts printed. You figure 50 should be enough, so you call up a t-shirt factory tell them you want 50 shirts printed and you'll send them a high-res pic of the design you want on them. They say 'sure buddy, for a run of 50 we will charge you $80 a pop.'

You balk, because you figured you'd only be able to sell them for $80 a pop. So you ask 'how much for 100?' he says '$60' keeping the price steady, you make $20 per shirt instead of zero. 'How many shirts till the next price bracket?' and he will say 'I'll charge you $50 a shirt for 200'.

Now you see what just happened. You doubled the quantity once and saved $20 per shirt. You double it again you only save $10. You could extrapolate out the pattern and guess that doubling the quantity again would only save you $5 a unit. By then your supply has grown so large it would be questionable whether you could sell them all for $80 and may have to look at lowering your price.

Anyway, the cost side is the interesting part, it shows a diminishing saving relative to the quantities you are ordering. At some point increasing the quantity will result in no saving.

Sorry if this seems like a sidetrack, but I'm going to dredge up lawyer/doctor coffee drinking aspirant again. Let's say this turd is smart, with relatively little effort they can get an enter score of 90, this aint good enough though. By doubling their efforts (from 3 hours homework a week to 6 hours) they achieve a score of 94. By doubling their effort again they (12 hours a week, or a casual job) they go from 94 to 96. Now assume they double their efforts again, (24 hours a week, or a weekend in waking hours) 97.5. Still not good enough, well maybe for full-fee paying places, but they have their pride, they want hecs. Now they have to double their efforts again - (48 hours a full time job, pretty much every waking hour not spent at school plus some, costing them in sleep). They get 98.25!

Obviously I've fudged the numbers, just pulled them out of my arse. However, like Keynes anecdotes and observations are sufficient to satisfy me, I'm fairly certain the laws of diminshing returns would empirically bear out if somebody looked into study habits. They may even find an alarming number of students that apply no effort whatsoever and cruise into the mid 90's.

For me, there was no compelling reason to get a 98 or 99 beyond bragging rights. It was obvious to me to hedge against an enter score of 80 some effort was required. But it was also obvious to me that the difference in effort to go from 80 to 90 was much smaller than the difference in effort to go from 95 to 99.95.

One can develop from this a bullshit law of student productivity - a students utility (a fairly loose term for wellbeing) is maximised when the incremental return on effort = the incremental expenditure of time. I would say arbitrarily that my ENTER score was optimal (95.5) I went to some effort, but lost no sleep enjoyed year 12 immensely and never studied during lunchtime. It will vary from person to person, and if you want to be a doctor or lawyer it seems you have no choice but an unpleasant guantlet run through year 12, otherwise you have to bet on yourself being brilliant. If you want to be a lawyer and to a lesser extent doctor, how brilliant can you be? (face!)

I'm tired of school though, I've moved on, question is: why hasn't everybody else?

Know Thy Time

I find almost anything interesting, and in defence of my own stupidity most of my energy is expended running thought experiments in my head that go nowhere. But as such I'm thinking all the time, apparantly I should meditate more, as much of my thinking is unproductive but anyway...

I work currently in a market research call center. This is a bit of a regression for me but so is being back at uni. This time round though I noticed something odd about my job. My employers know exactly how productive I am being.

If you work in a market research call center you will know what I mean when I say management if anything tend to overthink the job. A computer dials numbers for us so our dial rate doesn't really factor into our productivity. People answer, we solicit them for a survey, some proportion say 'yes', some proportion say 'not right now' and some small proportion say 'never'.

All this gets measured, thus, my supervisors, employers and customers all can see clearly how much work I am actually doing.

Unremarkable you say? It may interest you that before I took this job I was self employed as a management consultant of dubious qualifications. I was a bit of an unpolished diamond but overconfident in myself because I was of the Drucker school. Most managers in Australia are not of the drucker school. Infact they are of no school whatsoever most people are promoted into management by being 'good' at something else (eg. sales).

Drucker's first direction to managers is to 'know thy time.' Note hoe similar this is to my education problem? Leaders do the right things, managers do things right.

But the first thing a manager should do is know what they are spending their time on. Or if you like a nice passive tense 'where their time goes.' Basically, managers and any employee makes decisions constantly about how to allocate their time.

Drucker felt it was important to audit a managers time as first point of the consulting business because managers don't know what they are spending their time on. They don't know because they aren't conscious of the decisions they are making. They allocate their time reflexively, to routine and also things barking for their attention.

Most people can't distinguish between urgent and important, thus they equate the two and do things that are 'urgent' without actually assessing whether they are 'important'.

Most managers are alarmed to find they spend about 30% of their time responding to emails and 60% of their time in meetings and only 10% of their time actually doing their core responsibilities. They fail to delegate, attend pointless meetings and respond to emails their admin could answer for them.

Good managers do delegate and spend their time devising structural solutions that prevent all the spot fires bad managers constantly run around putting out.

What makes my shitty casual job so fascinating is that whilst many managers can't actually percieve how productive they are, here a job of little significance can constantly and reliably measure my productivity.

My job is one of the few jobs where I am being productive the entire time I am paid for. This is rare.

Don't believe me? Here's where I get insulting...


I have a friend who is a manager and is relatively new to the role. He started out as sort of a self directed jack of all trades but built up a volunteer base which gradually expanded into an actual small employee base.

I had repeated frustrations with him because he kept asking me for strategic advice. He had repeated frustrations with me because I kept advising him to actually devise a strategy.

I feel justified in my frustration because he always told me 'I don't have time for all this planning!' and even to paraphrase 'we don't have the resources to plan, this isn't a big company.'

Someone who has many resources has less reason to plan than somebody with very few. If you will, a soldier with a machine gun can spend less time aiming than somebody with only one bullet left.

What really frustrated me though was that I suggested this friend actually analyse his own productivity. His excuse not to do it 'I'm too busy.'

The point of analysing one's own productivity is to know what you are spending time on or alternatively wasting time on. It is discriminating between the total time you spend on productive activities and the total time you spend pissing up the wall.

Somebody who hasn't done this has no right to claim they are busy. Somebody who has no idea what they spend their time doing cannot say they are too busy to figure out what they are spending all their time on.

I suspect though, that 'too busy' was just an excuse to avoid confronting an unsettling truth: They aren't really busy at all.

Like a kid drinking coffee to appear stressed, and appearing stressed in order to appear important, presenteeism is appearing busy to look like you are productive.

This is where you come to work sick so everybody knows you are so important you can't even lie in bed for a day to recover. It is taking a 2 hour lunchbreak then working till 8pm. It is ludicrously common.

Sadly, appearing to be sick is not actual evidence that you are important. Sadder still, few managers call employees out on this. They rarely walk up in the morning and say 'you look terrible Babar, why'd you come in?' and Babar tells them 'I really have to get this report done today sir!' and sir says 'Good on you!' then walks off and walks back at 5pm and says 'lets see this important report then Babar!' wherein Babar breaks into a cold sweat and prints it off and the manager says 'well this report isn't actually important at all, thanks for coming to work and spreading your desease amongst employees that are actually doing some work.'

At Honda I had a trick, another trick of inversion. I employed it because I was a cunt. It basically went like this - I'd tell some junior employee to make sure they got their work done by 5pm and were out of here. Otherwise 'you'll look bad, the managers will walk past see you still here and think, Jojo can't handle his workload.' Managers of course would overhear this advice, and they never called me out. Of course they were suckers for presenteeism, I don't think I'm particularly brilliant for this trick, perhaps just brilliantly lazy plus a recipient of a marketing degree.

but nevertheless, I walked out of that office at 5pm every day and managers thought I was switched on, not undedicated and lazy. The trick to my trick though is that workplaces are remarkably inefficient. Again I'm being Keynesian and not doing any empirical statistical research, but I have never, ever, EVER met a counterexample in an office that suggested employees need put in more than 3 productive hours a day.

I would even suggest that 3 hours of actual productive work a day is quite high. There are of course counterexamples outside of the conventional office - call centers and artists. These are time consuming activities where one is productive for every hour one is paid (or in an artists case, not paid). Then there's manufacturing jobs and so fourth.

My trick worked because my actual output never contradicted the impression I cultivated. Many tried and none succeeded to consistently fill my day with productive activity. More and more was delegated to me in my three years. In the crazy times where my department experienced near to complete turnover in the period of 3 months I got up to about 5 hours a day.

I kept racking up responsibilities, automating them and becoming bored again. I maintain I'm not very smart. I didn't even concieve of the '3 hour' rule, arbitrary though it is. My brother had a friend that devised it and applied it. He'd show up for 3 hours a day and work hard and then go home and his employers loved him for it.

All I did was adopt a different theory than most of my colleagues.


Workaholia is the prevelant theory, and really it's just VCE all over again. People equate effort with productivity, urgency with importance and have no real natural grasp of the law of diminishing returns. Even then though, if you actually apply effort to your job, provided it is in some way productive in most office roles you will simply run out of things to do.

Most people get scared at this point hence the old 'work expands to fill the time available'. Furthermore people don't actually generally want more work to do. So at this point they don't get up and ask the manager for more work to do. Some do, but many don't. Many managers if you do ask scratch their head and tell you they don't really have anything to do.

Odds are you are going to learn one thing from exerting effort. You will become bored and learn then and there to take your time tomorrow. But if you take it easy, you may look lazy. So just like in VCE you drink coffee and bitch about losing sleep to cultivate the impression you are busy.

Instead though, you stay back after 5pm and rush around to meetings to cultivate this image.

I have met people that honestly believe they are as busy as the image they cultivate. I have met nobody who can prove it. Why can't they prove it? They are too busy to prove it.

It's a one or two step process, ask to look at the calander/schedule/organiser. It will either be A) empty. or B) full of meetings. that's step one. If it's empty you got yourself a presentee, they have no idea where their time goes, what their actual priorities are and what of their efforts are actually productive.

If it's B - full of meetings, then step 2 is to ask to see the minutes from the meetings. You will find their is either C) no minutes or D) minutes. If their are no minutes then nothing of any importance was discussed and no decisions of consequence were made. The only reason to have a meeting is to make decisions. You don't need to have a meeting to get information, the only reason to bring minds together is to problem solve/make decisions and productive meetings those minds have done their research first. If there are minutes you look for the decisions and the action items and or recommendations. 80% of the time, their are none. That means you can tell your presentee to cancel 80% of the meetings (they'll know which ones).

In practice a meeting pretty much is waste of time. They should never take longer than 10-15 minutes at the most and adjourn as soon as their purpose has been achieved (a decision has been made) so if a meeting lasts more than 15 minutes it better have 30 decisions in it.

Sadly, presenteeism pays off and many organisations reward effort and not output. This is hardly surprising since often seniority is also rewarded just like loyalty.

I think though and this is pure conjecture that people don't succumb to 'workaholia' because they want the promotions, just as students don't drink International roast for its robust flavor. They primarily do it to cultivate an image of importance, significance.

Warren Buffett tells this joke about an Oil prospector at the pearly gates. He arrives and St Peter (or whoever) informs him 'sorry we already have too many Oil Prospectors but you are free to join the queue.' and points to a long queue of oil prospectors. The wily prospector says 'I'm not waiting that long, watch this...' and turns to the long line of prospectors and says 'News just in! Oil found in Hell!' immediately the oil prospectors clamour over eachother jumping off the clouds and start heading downwards towards hell. Soon there is nobody left but St Peter and the wily oil prospector. St Peter says 'that's a neat trick, you're welcome in right now.' and the Oil prospector says 'nah, I think I'm going to head to hell, there may be some truth to those rumours.'

Whilst a witty illustration of how speculation creates self fulfilling prophecies, it also indicates how people can believe their own bullshit. People pretend to busy to convince themselves they are busy and generally succeed. This is why it's so hard for somebody obsessed with productivity to convince others they aren't nor that they need to exert so much effort to achieve their results.

Generally there are so many cases of people that could achieve more by doing less my mind boggles at how much waste this must be producing. Keynes argued that if we maintained 1950's living standards by now we would be working 4 hour days given the improvement in technology. I would argue that by now we could work 3 hour days and maintain a 21st century lifestyle (at least until mother nature exterminates us).

The reality is we all work 3 hour days, it just takes most people 10 hours to do it.


Whilst a key insight to my education strategy was to realise my school was a business, it is much easier to see that a business is a business. This is why it is perplexing that such inefficiencies exist as presenteeism/workaholia. As Drucker says 'there's only one reason for a firm to exist - to create a customer' somebody becomes a customer because they are purchasing value, thus productivity is simple it is any activity that actually contributes value.
Thus the answer to the question 'what do employees have to do?' is simple 'create value' because their employer (the firm) has to create value, anything that isn't valuable the customer doesn't pay for. (if they do they feel ripped off and complain to 10 times the number of people they would tell if they were pleased)

Now lastly, and I mean it this time I should conclude where I began. I think my day was wasted writing a report, because fundamentally it is a project and it rewards effort. All the teacher has to do is make sure I know what I need to know, that is I understand what they taught me. This could be sufficiently demonstrated in a test or better yet the results of the simulation my report is actually on. As reports go it was one of the better ones because it made me pick through all the transactions with a fine tooth comb. But it could have just as easily been a short questionnaire.