There was a time when I could dump my trash out in the woods and nobody could ever notice.
There was a time when I could draw pure water from a river and never know or care how many outhouses—or moose—were upstream.
There was a time when I could burn my autumn leaf pile and my neighbors would only get an aromatic reminder of the season.
There was a time when I could burn coal to heat my stove and the skies remained clear.
There was a time when I could dump my smokestack effluent out into the atmosphere and the wind would dilute it before anyone could ever notice.
There was a time when I could dump all my externalities upon the rest of the world without bothering to account for the infinitesimal degradation it caused.
There was a time when I was given dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over all the earth, and my stewardship thereof preserved it for me and my seed unto all generations. And because I was small, compared to Nature, whatever I did pretty much didn’t really matter in the long run.
Continue reading “There was a Time”
a.k.a. Principle of Indifference:
If you can’t tell the difference, it doesn’t matter.
Some of us have no problem reaching a crisp decision. Right or wrong, they deal with what the job (or life) brings them, deal with the consequences, and carry on.
Others (including this writer) tend to think things through, understand things in depth, carefully identify options and weigh alternatives, seek other opinions, and generally dither about before creeping up to a decision.
Having been accepted to three schools, which one should I pick? Which job offer/marriage proposal should I accept? Is it time to replace my furnace yet? Which TV should I buy? Which commuting route to the office today? Deer in the headlights, squirrel that won’t dash off the road. Should I stay or should I go now? (asked The Clash, covered by Weezer).
When a decision turns out to be a difficult one, generally it’s because the alternatives are pretty much equivalent: they’re equally good, or equally bad. But you know, if they really are equal, then it doesn’t matter which one we pick! The very thing that makes the decision hard to reach actually minimizes the problem of picking the “wrong” one—which should make it easier to decide. Perhaps the psychologists can explain our paradoxical behavior.
A side case is when you lack information that is necessary to make a truly informed decision. Rather than freeze, we can identify the information that would actually change our decision, and seek it—and there is no need to wait for info that would not change the decision. Also, if the consequences of delaying outweigh the consequences of deciding wrong, we have to just close our eyes and jump.
The vast majority of people have more than the average number of legs.
The average mother has 2.36 children even though no mother has that number.
We have an intuitive grasp of what it means when something is average, typical, or representative. Math and statistics formalize “average” in terms of mean, median, and mode. Each of these quantities condenses the complicated details of a distribution into a single number.
That number oversimplifies things, though. Bizarre, counterintuitive, and seemingly paradoxical things happen with unusual (not-so-representative) distributions.
Continue reading ““Average” considered harmful”
When defining goals for a startup, or outlining requirements for significant new software development, a lot of things pressure us to be too ambitious. A little stress is energizing, but striving toward unrealistic goals is both damaging and wasteful.
It’s a proud and noble thing, setting out on the hero’s journey, to slay the dragon or strive against the odds, to dream the impossible dream. As Shaw wrote, “all progress depends on the unreasonable man.” Steve Blank speaks of “crazy entrepreneurs” who are hallucinating, yet sometimes are actually visionaries.
Continue reading “Realistic development ambitions”
As I belatedly start my journey into the blogosphere, this XXI-century version of the vanity press, I expect I’ll be musing on topics I myself take an interest in, like technology, software development, maker community, or linguistics, and who knows, perhaps a side excursion to the shores of drug discovery or U.S. politics or something. If I sound desultory, well, the future is all vaporware.