Friday, August 29, 2014

What other people want

To me the best thing about figuring out money is making it all so obvious there is no area of misunderstanding, especially as to why to have it or how not to be silly to not want a lot of it. And yeah that goes back to how I was raised where I have this silly embarrassment at not wanting to get rich, as if not wanting means there's something wrong with me.

But defining money helps me to see it's a lot about providing something that other people want.

Earning money involves a process: First you need to figure out what they want. Let them know you can give it. They have to then let you know they want it. Then you need to figure out some kind of contract between parties. There has to be a buying decision where they agree to the contract, which is often unwritten, but may not be. If it's written you both have to sign it. And then you deliver the desired product or service in a timely manner. And get paid. Or you may get all or some payment upfront before delivery.

There are plenty of things where I'm not the slightest bit interested in that entire process. And lots of things I like to do just because they're fun.

It's like how I'll give free advice to companies and don't like giving advice to a human being. I prefer mega-corporations or huge business sectors so I don't take it too seriously. I figure that way if someone actually listens to me then I don't have to feel guilty if it doesn't work out.

But another human? I'd be too worried about telling something wrong. What if you screw up a life? Don't need that kind of responsibility. Hard enough taking care of my own.

Doing things because other people want you to do those things is a service. And I think providing services on-demand is often a great asset to the social reality. I know there are plenty of services I like and need. Like, going to the grocery store. It's nice for it to be there. And great for there to be people there ready to help you, and take your money when you buy things you need like food. I've worked in grocery stores before so been one of those people.

It is a bit strange to think though that across the board where ever there is an exchange of money for products or services it's really all the same essential thing.

Businesses try to find out what people want, and they don't just give it to you. They try to get transactions, where there is a buying decision made. Where it's agreed to ahead of time that you will get something, and then give some amount of money in return.

Transactions fascinate me in the abstract. I'm still studying the concept.

Regardless, some people have an innate adeptness at working to create transactions where they supply what people want in exchange for money. Money is actually a symbol of a debt to be repaid which is weird. From the idea perspective, money is not actually the debt paid--though many see it that way--but a promise from society that you will get something for your effort.

Money has no meaning without a society to support it.

It is an IOU from your community, whether that's local or global.

And your community doesn't have to recognize it. Money represents debts owed between parties recognized by society because that facilitates its own needs. Otherwise it can simply direct you back to that party to have the service debt repaid.

Like imagine you work all day on some hard and dirty job for someone and they pay you $500 US for your hard days work. That money does not actually give you an immediate return on all that effort but is a promise of a return later from your society. Now let's say as you walk out the door with that money in hand, society collapses, and all your money is suddenly worthless.

To some it might seem that's it. Your efforts just were for nothing. But actually that person you just did something for, can shrug and hand you something else, or come work for you for a bit to pay you back.

You see, it really is about two parties. Money is just an abstraction. The reality is people doing things for each other. Society facilitates that for its own needs.

Your community does not have to recognize money if it so chose, but thankfully it usually does! Or our social world could not exist in its current form.

So much can get lost in the abstraction of money which is why it's worth it to figure out what it actually is, and then maybe figure out what you can do for others.

And what you think you should have in return.

James Harris

Monday, August 25, 2014

Valuing knowledge and money

To me money was a big enough issue that I sat down and pondered it until I could come up with my own theory of money. If you click on the link and read you'll soon notice the post includes lots of disclaimers! Money is such a big deal, but for me figuring it out was a practical necessity. I was having trouble figuring out things related to money, didn't see anything out there that explained it well enough for me, so I sat down and figured it out on my own.

The gist of it is relating money to favors by asserting it abstracts and enumerates the value of a favor. So like you can ask a friend for a cup of coffee at his house. Maybe later you give him a snack at yours, returning the favor which most people kind of do with a vague sense of who is up or down with favors. Or you go to a coffee shop and you just pay a certain amount for the favor of someone making you a cup of coffee. That person does you a service. Money allows us to price out favors so strangers can do them for us, and we don't have to worry about some other form of reciprocation.

If you have a friend who doesn't return favors, or rarely does that can bring up social friction. Turns out that people can get a vague sense that they're not getting value for their money which in the big wide world is about information: who has it and who doesn't.

My favorite example goes back over a decade when I decided to build a pc for myself to save money. Got the case, motherboard and other items, put it together but needed an operating system. Went to a local computer store--not a big chain--told the guy at the counter what I was doing and asked him for MS DOS as I needed an operating system. He did me a huge favor and instead suggested I use DR DOS. I was like, huh? What's that?

And it was before the emergence of Microsoft Windows 3.1 which gives you the timeline and the guy at the sales desk informed me it could run all the programs I wanted to run with MS DOS but was MUCH cheaper.

So I bought it. Built my pc and got it running just fine and found he was right, and it suited my needs, but notice that I paid less for my operating system, and I've pondered that ever since. And I've remained fascinated with operating systems, including promoting the idea of a Browser Operating System which I designated the BOS.

I now firmly believe that most people have NO IDEA what their operating system costs them in a modern computing device, even when it's free, which it is with Android. That price tends to be buried into the full price of the device.

You need to be an insider or curious in this area to understand where that little bit of info--consider it's just a number that could be listed with the price of a computer--has taken the entire world.

For a while I decided that the much vaunted American consumers were stupid, but then I realized: they were simply not given the information.

With my own theory of money I can now explain everything related to money around the globe. I can even explain the wage gap where people are howling about the top 1% making so much more, and yup, it's about information. I've concluded many American workers have no clue how much they should be paid.

The web is helping though. Even though companies fight so vigorously against that information spreading.

Ever wonder what is the best explanation for why companies don't want employees to share what their salary is?

Now you know. It's so they can keep salaries lower.

Duh. What else could it have been?

James Harris

Friday, August 22, 2014

Another development model?

Was laying around thinking to myself about why I feel uncomfortable at software companies, and started fantasizing about other ways to get paid to code, like that emphasize the value of your code. After a while I thought to myself: why not just blab about it in public? I do have a blog.

So here is some of that fantasy where the start is an End User License Agreement aka EULA that allows you to have people take use of your code ahead of payment in order to see if they want it. If they want it then they'd be expected to pay up otherwise you would assume they would voluntarily delete the code from their system, without checking.

That is, say this app existed. Some people go on the web, buy it without paying anything, and then can use the application for as long as they wish while they evaluate it. And you don't bug them. If they determine it is quality then they should hit a button and get charged. Otherwise you assume they will voluntarily delete off their system. And you will not bug them to make sure either.

That is going with concepts I call PBV for Pay Back Value which assumes people will tend to buy things once they see quality so you let them see it first and trust them.

Part of the fantasy is that the PBV EULA would cut down on litigation costs as you can say users had ample opportunity to fully comprehend what the app does and does not do, so how sue? (People will figure out a way though I guess.) Oh yeah, and would eliminate return costs.

Ok, with the PBV EULA imagine a coding project where developers build a software application and sell it, where each coder gets a percentage of sales based on how often their code is actually used when users are running the app.

So in this fantasy scenario, built into the application is a method for tallying when code lines are actually used by people doing things with the application and maybe it uploads a report monthly or something and on that basis, coders get paid a percentage. Like if your blocks of code are used 40% of the time, you get something around 40% though maybe a little less, as like maybe 5% is administrative, so you might get 40% of 90% assuming 10% other costs including administrative. And next month it might be 33% as other code is introduced or for some mysterious reason people are less heavily using features you coded.

So it would be a merit system: coders who code the most heavily used features would get paid the most.

And it could be an open source project as well. That could let people come into some project, maybe with some big ideas, code something really cool and get paid. And then get on with their lives without contracts, and coming to some freaking office. Or signing anything other than a minimal contractor agreement agreeing to the terms outlined above.

That's my fantasy.

Actually making it into reality would involve lawyers willing to write up the EULA. That's a major big deal as would be nice if someone would do it pro bono, as in free. For the industry.

Then you'd need some run metric on code blocks--oh and that idea is open source and now I wonder do any companies do it?

Seems like a fun idea to me: see what code of your developers is actually the workhorse in an application and pay them accordingly.

That would reward the best coders, reward the best features, and not reward the people who put in crazy wild stuff that simply confuses end users so much they never use the junk.

Ok, beginning to rant a bit, which means I should stop now. Just speculating. Things I do. I like to dream and speculate and wonder about things. And then I can share if I wish. As you see, it's my blog.

James Harris

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Functional certainty

Understanding certainty I think is one of those weird arenas where it seems certain upfront. Certainty is being sure of something, right? But how do we know? And to me it's not a minor issue as people will argue relentlessly over questions of certainty. Yet I've made a point of emphasizing that many people have vast amounts of practical certainty in their lives with predictive power. Like in my country they calmly go to a water faucet and pour a glass of water. Or do they? Some have had that certainty challenged unfortunately with problems with their water supply. Others have long since lost trust in the municipal water and prefer bottled water.

But what makes them so certain the bottled water is safe?

Functional definitions fascinate me as when I say a definition is functional then I mean you can DO something with it. And I've focused on the predictive power of science to explain it.

Remarkably science has given us massive amounts of predictive power which we use for certainty. Water is a great example as our ancestors could die from the wrong drink. Beer and wine could purify water to some extent with the alcohol killing off nasty organisms we now know. For our ancestors it was more mysterious.

But how many people understand the biology of bacteria? Can you even name a common bacterium which can infect water? People in countries where clean water is not so taken for granted probably can.

You don't need to be a biologist to understand your certainty, or lack of it, around the water available for you to drink

Focusing on predictive power, like being able to get a drink of water from the faucet or reliably flip a light switch, gives a functional approach to science and allows us to tell when something is scientific, or not. And that allows people who do not even understand a particular arena of scientific inquiry to so determine! Which is a really big deal. It means you can manage scientists with a functional framework based on prediction.

IN a prior post I explained how scientists are like adult babies so maybe they don't like how easily they can be managed which is why the predictive aspect of science is not normally emphasized. That expression is an oxymoron in that it can't literally be true, of course and is meant to be humorous. Scientists retain one could say the childlike wonder to know.

To many the word "science" is powerful but mysterious, and difficult to understand.

I aim to demystify it.

Knowing that science gives predictive power means that if a scientist is talking to you, you can ask her or him, what can she or he predict with a particular scientific theory. If you get frustration in response, then the person may NOT be doing science.

For example, a doctor learning splints can predictably set broken bones. A student getting her MBA can predictably set up a process for managing orders or something business, more on a limb there, as I know less about business. But if said student were in front of me I could quickly zero in on what she could do with her knowledge.

Forcing prediction is something you can take for granted, like a biologist might be able to tell you that some water is now safe to drink after boiling as deadly organisms have been killed off. Do you really care about that last? Or do you really focus on that "safe to drink"?

A physicist working on fusion power can predictably if the theory is achieved talk to engineers about how to predictably use fusion for electricity generation. But we don't have that ability yet. So we're at the limits of science. If you talk to someone who is doing fusion research, you don't need to know much to find the limits.

So managing scientists is easy: ask them to predict something.

If they refuse, they're not doing science.

But don't make the mistake of asking what you can DO with something. Then you will be caught in a trap. Generally it's a bad idea to ask a scientist what you can do with anything. They have speeches well prepared to make you feel like an idiot for asking such a thing.

Prediction is the thing.

Famously scientists during World War II were terrified of the implications of Einstein's theory that matter could be converted into energy and predicted correctly that we could predictably exploit such a thing into nuclear bombs. Without that prediction, why would the research project at Los Alamos have been done?

Why bother with this focus on prediction and science?

Because it forces those adult-babies called scientists to focus. It pushes a scientist into giving the parameters of success. And makes scientists see where the truth can be determined.

Otherwise you can have a very expensive group of people milling around doing all kinds of things telling you it's "basic research" when they're like babies playing with their toes. Why? Because it feels good, of course!

Managing a scientist I emphasize again is easy: ask him for a prediction. Ask her to tell you what predictive value does a particular hypothesis have.

Even if the answer seems nonsensical you can usually tell when that person is doing real research or is fumbling in the dark trying to figure out what the real scientific research looks like.

People may claim our world lacks certainty. In my country I can ask them something simple, like how certain are you that flipping that light switch will work? Or how certain are you your car will crank?

Or maybe simply ask, really worried that everything will just fall apart at any minute?

But I'm pragmatic that way. Oh yeah, if person answers that he or she is, then I can just walk away. Clearly that person is on a different planet than the one on which I'm typing these letters now with the comfortable certainty that soon people in other countries will be reading them. I like that odd feeling as for now I'm the only person in the world reading these words. But by the time you read them, well...I don't know. Less certain there.

James Harris


Want your own copy as PDF? If so can download from my public Google drive here.

Friday, August 08, 2014

Climate and bad news

People don't like bad news. When it comes to questions around our global climate and how news gets reported my simple assessment is that if it's bad news it tends to get moved to the fringe, rather than lead the news, not for some huge conspiratorial reason but because that's what's best for ratings.

Like consider recent news of giant holes opening up in Siberia. If you've heard of it, then it's probably because of initial news--people love novelty--widely reported, which I noticed. But why less follow-up?

I think it's because the news is bad. I'll link to an article which actually says that in the headline:

Siberian hole mystery: Scientists think they know the cause and it's bad news

And the news IS getting reported, as I can link to an article, but the follow-up should be BIG news, as it's about the possibility of releases of vast stores of methane, which is much more potent as a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide.

I've talked a lot about science being the art of prediction, to try and help people understand how we can have certainty about things, so that better decisions can be made. For instance, some people seem to believe in endless shades of gray, and think that proper skepticism with scientific results is simply to doubt them, but those same people casually flip a light switch without these "shades of grey" attitudes.

Greenhouse gases are why we are alive. The Earth absorbs a small amount of energy from the Sun, reflecting most of it back into space or the planet would be molten. If it reflected all of the solar energy back into space, it would be an ice ball.

We live in the balance.

So there is no doubt about what these gases do. We have scientific certainty.

What we also know is that we're putting more of these gases into our atmosphere than seem to be getting pulled back out as the planet fights for balance despite us. That fight is where we survive.

However, increasing indications are that Earth is losing that battle, and as the greenhouse gases continue to grow, more energy will be absorbed from the Sun potentially causing catastrophic changes.

The actual absolute worst case rarely reported is the possibility that temperatures soar above the boiling point of water and all life except hardy bacteria is killed, but our planet is doing quite a great job for the most part in trying to maintain the balance, and that worst case possibility is considered remote.

However, even if planet Earth saves us from this bizarre experiment where we're dumping vast amounts of greenhouse gases into our atmosphere, it's not clear how much of the world as we know it today, especially the climate we know today, will remain.

Humanity has actually arisen during a golden period in Earth's climate history when for some reason climate was really good for us. Sure there have been swings here and there like ice ages, but nothing that simply pushed us over the brink. If there had been we wouldn't be around to type about it.

The sad irony may be that with our technological development, we push things outside that special range, which may simply be how we usher in an age for some other life-form, like our own dominance required dinosaurs to take a back seat.

So maybe the final realization soon for all is that reality is bigger than all of us, and despite our delusions of grandeur or of not being natural, we are not only just a part of the natural order of our world, we're following along a predestined path to ensure our own fall from dominance.

But I like to believe we're smarter than that scenario, and understanding science is key.

Science got us into this mess, and science can get us out. But people have to understand how it works! So they can work it best.

James Harris