Category Archives: Random

Arbitrary Value Assignment

Today I would like to write about arbitrary value assignment and how it relates to adoption or rejection of technology and culture.

When I say technology I am not merely talking about iPads, apps and laptops; but all objects which have been developed in conjunction with application of knowledge of scientific principles. In other words, a broader definition.

First, lets talk about physical books. Printed, bound and inky books. These were developed through application of science and technology. Compared to an eReader they look downright shabby – possessing no batteries, LCD screen or even speakers. They are technology, however, and thus can be compared directly to an eReader in the same paradigm.

It is important to note that the word “book” simultaneously (and I would argue equally) describes both a physical bound and printed written work and the contents thereof. A good example is the books of the Bible. We are well aware that they are separate, individual works despite being bound together, and so we retain the designation, rather than lumping them all together. The medium is not the message. If the text of Moby Dick were written on a giant cave wall in charcoal, would people still call it a book? I think so. Regardless what people call it, would it be any less profound, thrilling or educational? Of course not.

“Stop!” a critic might exclaim, “the tedium of reading off a cave wall would distract the reader, and thus might make the story less effective!” That would be an astute observation, and it leads me to my first point. A medium or any “thing” for that matter, should be judged according to its merits, and not upon arbitrary value assignments.

How this applies to books is that many individuals feel it is important to champion paper books over eReaders beyond a pro/con analysis. They take the argument into a realm of ethereal ideas of quality based upon something, something that makes paper books more… well just better. That something is an arbitrary value assignment.

What is a value assignment, and what makes one arbitrary? A value assignment is labeling something as “good” or “bad.” This can be meant in a moralistic sense or a simply practical one, with “bad” being informally substituted in the place of “unsatisfactory.” People do this by collecting evidence and then making a decision. If evidence is not taken into account, then that judgement is arbitrary, or baseless. Assuming one wants to live a life guided by rational decisions (many don’t mind omitting logic from the source of their beliefs, hence the designation) then arbitrary value assignments are… well, bad.

How does this relate to technology and culture adoption? People commonly assign arbitrary value when evaluating new things. In my observation, the most common way this is accomplished is to view old or previously established things, ways of behaving, doing, etc, as better than the new way, thing, or idea. To put it differently, people are used to the way things have been, and thus push against the new. This is not a unique idea I am presenting here, but I do feel it is an original spin on what has previously been said. What I want to point out, however, is that this behavior, of automatically judging things in one lump established=good/unproven=bad is not rational, as it could prevent people from obtaining potential benefit.

People often scoff at new ideas only because they are new. Not because they have evaluated and judged them, but because they are unfamiliar. Sometimes people believe they are making a rational judgement, when in fact they are merely filtering ideas through their previous understanding of the thing. A good example is the argument of whether children should be given cell phones. Younger and younger children are being given cell phones because of decrease in prices for basic calling plans and the phones themselves. The parents do this for added child safety. Many people deride the parents of these children, like they are somehow soiling their youth because… well… um… it just seems like kids shouldn’t have cell phones. Kids didn’t use to have cell phones (actually no-one did, but that is beside the point), so why do they suddenly need them now? Despite the obvious flaw in this argument (we didn’t previously have antibiotics either) people defer to it in a vain attempt to express what they are feeling. It is my argument that the disdain they feel for this possibility of kids having cell phones is not based upon logic or reasoning, but simply because previously kids just didn’t have them, so that just seems right. 

It seems like kids should be reared having to call from a landline, memorizing phone numbers while being careful to plan departure and arrival times so as not to worry parents. But that is only because it is the way that adults today had to do it when they were young. Sure, certain skills may have been learned by doing it that way, but those specific skills, if not taught through the new way of owning a cell phone, probably aren’t needed anymore.

For instance, I can only imagine what kind of skills are developed through computer programming on punchcards. Make sure you don’t make a mistake because once those holes are in the paper, they will remain! However, that isn’t how computers are programmed anymore. So while there were probably a few graduating computer scientists who learned the punchcard method while their college updated the curriculum, the industry quickly moved on, forgetting the outdated method. There were, no doubt, old curmudgeonly programmers who scoffed at the new young programmers who hadn’t even seen a punchcard. They must have judged them as lacking an integral skill or important experience that, although unquantifiable, must be important because it was experienced by someone. 

It is this appeal to feeling that I believe is absolutely useless. If one is unable to articulate why something should or shouldn’t be used/adopted/completed/etc and are relying on a sort of instinctual gut feeling, it is likely that the underlying reasoning is based upon an irrational line of reasoning. This is not to be confused with split decision making and fight or flight response, wherein a person makes a “gut” decision and acts quickly.

It is important to identify our own internal reference material. In academic studies one is required to verify sources of information to ensure validity. So too should individuals when making decisions, since it is absolutely possible that the seed of any one particular bit of information began as a half-formed thought, based in bias or misinformation. To use a historical example, designers of the RMS Titanic believed the design to be unsinkable. They based other decisions, such as how many lifeboats to place on the ship, upon this flawed premise. How many other decisions were poisoned by the faulty reasoning on this principal portion of the design?

Again, I feel that one of the most common elemental erroneous judgements is that things that have been around for a while are better than those that are new. It is common to look back at past decades as simpler, happier times. Who hasn’t gazed at a 1950s marketing image for Coca-Cola and thought “It sure would have been nice to live back then”? What many fail to remember is that at this time blacks were marginalized in the United States to a significantly greater degree than today, as were women discriminated against in the workplace, while various diseases remained yet uncured. You won’t see that intentionally in an ad for dyed and carbonated sugar water.

In summation, it is important that we don’t confuse feelings of comfort with perceived merit. It is irrational to make value assignments based purely upon how established something already is. People should study their preconceived notions, and judge all incoming data upon valid information, and not merely an inclination or feeling.

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Filed under Books, Opinion, Random, Rant, Tech

How Not to Argue – A Public Service

You’ve seen it before a thousand times. An argument breaks out next to the water cooler, in class, at home. If it is some kind of philosophical or moral dilemma being debated, there is one thing that is inevitable. Someone is going to pull the Hitler card.

No, the Hitler card (Reductio ad Hitlerum) is not some sort of Dungeons and Dragonesque playing card one keeps in a meticulously organized folder, but it might as well be. People throw it out like the “wild card” in UNO, believing that it will prove their point and end the discussion allowing them to ride off into the sunset of argumentative glory.

The Hitler card is the designation given to a fallacious method of persuasion. It is commonly used when the losing party in an argument runs out of points to their favor, and resorts to petty comparisons. I think that this is best described with an example.

“Hitler believed in gun control, so gun control is wrong.”

You could also replace “gun control” with abortion, capitol punishment, censorship, vegetarianism… etc. The idea is to discredit the opponent through revelation that their position on the issue is shared with Hitler. This is flawed for various reasons. If we were to believe that anything which Hitler believed in was wrong because of his various unrelated crimes against humanity, we would likely want to stop: cooking our food, cleaning our bedsheets, using combs, or countless other things. It seems silly, but people actually use this argument!

This is simplified and very clear cut, but I believe it illustrates the point. The Hitler card is used in vain to show that if Hitler or the Nazi party believed in something, it is wrong. It sounds absurd but in the heat of argument it is used very often. An issue should be considered based upon its own merits, and not upon those who have associated themselves with it.

In this spirit, I have created a list of other logical fallacies which people use in an effort to support their arguments, but only end up proving their foolishness.

Black or White Fallacy/False Dilemma

“It is either this way, or that way.” This is often used in religious arguments in order to provoke a hasty conclusion. Smoothing out large issues into two choices does not help solve problems. Why doesn’t this work? Because if you decide to say that abortion is either right or wrong, you are ignoring smaller issues such as whether it should be used in situations of incest or rape, or when an embryo should be considered “alive.” It is just much too complicated to fit into two categories.

Ad Hominem

“Obama smokes so his proposed health care system must be bogus.” This has ties to the Hitler card, but it needs to be stated. This is when you attack a person personally with an irrelevant issue in an attempt to weaken their argument. You will often see this in arguments between couples. One may recall irrelevant past discretions in an attempt to augment the current discussion. Although it sounds persuasive, it is not logical. The decision at hand should be considered, not ones in the past. For instance, just because your girlfriend may have forgotten to feed the dog, doesn’t mean she shouldn’t get to pick out which new fridge to buy. (Disclaimer: Luckily I don’t ever have to deal with this tactic being used in my home).

Circular Argument

Assuming what you set out to prove. This one is harder to spot. Lets look at an example. “We know God exists, because it says so in the bible. We know that the Bible is true because it is the word of God.” This is simplified of course, so hopefully you spotted it. If your argument proves itself, it is not a masterfully crafted rhetorical gem, it is a bad argument.

In conclusion, usage of any of these arguments by an opponent does not disprove their argument either. It only proves that they are using a bad argument. I would like to issue a challenge to everyone to be more rhetorically aware, and to not use bad argumentative tactics.

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Filed under Opinion, Politics, Random

My Obituary (in the Classified Ads)

Man and Wife

Body for sale. Well used. 1986 model. No paperwork included. Original owner. Near running condition. Great for someone who wants a fixer upper (advanced medical degree suggested). Often left out in the sun, and thus dried out at times with leather cracked and peeling. Well loved. Many miles, fortunately. Mostly used around town, but many freeway as well. Air and sea mileage only on special occasions. Not bad looking, but not the best either. Red interior. Some missing parts, and some work better than others. Smoke free.

This will go fast, call today.

I wrote this while thinking about how I would like to have lived my life when I die. Don’t worry, I’m not going anywhere anytime soon (that I know of). I have already lived 23 years on this green, blue and brown rock hurtling through space, and feel pretty good about it so far. But the years previous have been easy ones to have fun. I have realized that pretty much from here on out, I will have to make a conscious decision when I am going to kick my feet back and not work. Especially since my planned profession will require a lot of my time. I’m okay with that, but I hope I can manage to realize that I am working to live, and not living to work.

Isn’t that it really? The reason I go to school, is so I can get a job that will enable me to not worry about the cost of living, and otherwise enjoy that living. I hope I can do that, and if my body were like a vehicle of some sort, the ad wouldn’t look like one for a peach 60’s era coupe that has been parked and preserved inside.

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Filed under Opinion, Random

Happy Little Trees

bob-rossI imagine that when you read that title, you felt a warm spot spring up in your heart. If not, I truly pity you. For those of us who did, we remember coming home from school after a day of equations and crayons smell, grabbing a pop-tart and flipping on the tube. Sure, there were cartoons, but sometimes we would come across a soothing voice wielding a colorful palette of smudges. This voice belonged to Bob Ross.

Although Ross died in 1995 of lymphoma, his show The Joy of Painting is still shown regularly. I was lucky enough to catch an episode before my evening class the other day, and it brought back the wonderment it always has. Watching a painting be created is a sight to behold, and truly transcends all demographic barriers. The speed with which he paints is a feat in and of itself, as he doesn’t wait for anything to dry. He adds layers, sometimes to your dismay thinking “The painting is fine how it is!” but then when he finishes adding the “little something going on” you finally see the vision he had all along.

The man was as soft-spoken as you will find, so it may surprise you to find out he was in the military and was yelling at people on a regular basis. This is what prompted him to take on his laid back philosophy after his military service. He was stationed in Alaska for a large part of his service, which shows in his beautiful landscape paintings featuring large mountains and lakes.

Here are a couple of his paintings, for your enjoyment:

autumn

bob_ross_csg033_mountain_splender

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The Art, the Passion, the Ninja.

Here are a couple reasons why Ninja are the greatest.

Stealth– Sure, pirates are cool, but you usually smell them long before you get shot by their pistol or skewered with their sword. If a Ninja kills you, you think that there might be a slight breeze when all of the sudden all 4 of your limbs are simultaneously severed from your body with flying stars.
Concealed Identity– What good is an assassin if they can be tracked down? I’m sure that mobsters get their houses egged all the time because they kill people, but I know one thing for sure, Ninjas don’t. That reminds me of my next point:
They don’t sleep– And if they do for some reason, their nunchucks are continually spinning so that if someone (another Ninja) tries to attack them, the attackers kneecaps fly across the room.

Silence– If Ninja were to talk about all the people they killed, they would have to assassinate you. This would be start a deadly pattern where the entire world would be smitten with a plague of unstoppable, totally awesome ninjas. This would no doubt be excellent, but you wouldn’t be alive to enjoy it.

Dress– All black. Ninja travel alone and in packs, but you can never tell because people usually mistake them for darkness. In fact, when you go out to your car at night, there is a 96% chance that you are outnumbered by Ninja within your direct proximity or “kill zone”.

Weapon Mastery– When a Ninja is born they are given a

weapon that they will use throughout the rest of their first year of life. They are expected to master it. On their first birthday, they are thrust into training by having a constant stream of samurai come against them for them to kill for the next 17 years. After that point their killing is done for honor rather than training, though the number of victims does not diminish.


Speed– In the 0.12 seconds it took you to read the word “speed”, a ninja broke into your house, evaluated whether you need to die based on your good deeds, and either killed or spared you. If you are still reading this, you may want check to see if your jugular vien is intact.


I hope that has been educational. Deadly, educational.
PS I’m sorry you don’t have a Ninja house Derek.

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Pure Ecstacy

I have at last appeased a dream of mine that I once had. I woke in a cold sweat, knowing that one day my dream, the ultimate dream, would one day come true. It is this day that my dream has been fulfilled. Gather round young children, and witness glory, and the impossible.


I give you Bruce Lee v. Chuck Norris

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Filed under Geek Stuff, Random

A Little Nostalgia

I made this in Photoshop in my continuing endeavor to
waste time with the program. Since that is my only
goal, I would say that I have been very productive
lately. See kids, set you sights low, so you always
succeed.

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Filed under Geek Stuff, Random