Thursday, October 5, 2017

It could be worse

Too much garbage in your face? Broken TV? Both? It could be worse.
No matter how poor or sick you are, no matter what choices you’ve made, remember that it could always be worse.
“... in the astronaut business, we have a saying, which is: there is no problem so bad that you can’t make it worse.” ~Chris Hadfield, from his 2014 TED Talk.
That’s not just in space either.
Nobody knows your situation. Nobody knows what you’re up against. Not even you. You’ve only got a partial picture. Life doesn’t give you perfect information. Maybe you’re about to win second prize in a beauty contest, collect $10, and get picked for a reality show.
You might feel bad, and that might make you angry. Maybe even angry enough to do something extreme. Breathe. Remember. It could be worse, but it’s not.
For example, you’re not currently being attacked by a tiger, probed by aliens, or accidentally running for office. The funnier the better. It helps break the pattern.
By switching to gratitude, even for something tiny, you can overcome the anger, because you can’t be angry and grateful at the same time. And there’s always something to be grateful for: It could always be worse. And right now it’s not.
Maybe the turkey’s a little dry. Maybe it’s a free ride when you’ve already paid. Maybe you don’t feel like you matter.
Anger might feel appropriate. Nobody knows your situation. Nobody can tell you what to feel. And frankly, you could always make it worse, but that won’t help.
Make it better instead. A glimmer of goofy gratitude is somewhere to start.
You matter more than you know. Happy thanksgiving.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Cooperative Games

Most games are competitive. You win by defeating your opponents.
In individual games, like Chess or Poker, when someone wins, others lose.

In team games like Bridge or Baseball, you win or lose as a team.

In other games, like Pandemic (where players work together to cure global diseases) or Mole Rats in Space, there is only one team. The players work together to win or lose together. The only way a competitive player can win is if all the players win together.

It changes the incentives. Suddenly, everyone wants other players to succeed, not fail.

In games, you win by achieving the object of the game. Whether your object is to bankrupt the other property owners, checkmate the opposing king, or solve the problem together, the players will work towards that end.

As international competition gives way to freer trade and globalization, cooperative games give us a window into practicing helping everyone achieve their goals, without compromising our own.

Imagine how it would change climate change negotiations if the negotiators have practiced achieving enough for all, rather than playing for high scores.
We hone our competitive instincts by competing. Perhaps we can get better at cooperating under globalization whether it’s helping Mole Rats in Space make it to their escape pod, or running World Climate, a simplified Climate Negotiations Meeting from Climate Interactive.

We get better at the things we practice. With Cooperative games, we can practice working together which could help us approach approach global civilization the same way.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Strategic Voting

There's something freeing about knowing for sure that your vote won't make a difference. You can vote your conscience and ignore strategic voting.  (This only applies to 'done deal' ridings, where you know you can't matter.)
The Conservative candidate for Battle River—Crowfoot is showing on as 100% likely to win the riding. Vote your conscience, you're off the hook.
So if your vote won't impact the outcome, what can you do?
If you support Harper, encourage Liberal and NDP supporters to vote their conscience, split their vote and leave the election to the Conservatives.
If you'd rather not have another Harper government, encourage the Liberals and NDP to cooperate.
Vote Liberal in: Brampton Centre(ON), Northumberland—Peterborough South(ON), Vaughan–Woodbridge(ON) Saint John—Rothesay(NB), Aurora—Oak Ridges—Richmond Hill(ON), Bay of Quinte(ON), Haldimand—Norfolk(ON), King—Vaughan(ON).
Vote NDP in: Cariboo—Prince George(BC), Coquitlam—Port Coquitlam(BC), Edmonton Griesbach(AB), Regina—Qu'Appelle(SK), Jonquiere(QC), Essex(ON), Mission—Matsqui—Fraser Canyon(BC), North Okanagan—Shuswap(BC).

On election night, watch these swing ridings to see how things are going. No matter who wins, demand voter reform so that your vote will matter more next election, and help make strategic voting a thing of the past.
Originally published 2015-10-16. is one option. There are lots of systems. They're almost all better than what we have now.

Your vote doesn't matter.

There's an election coming. In lots of ways, it's already over. Unless Kevin Sorenson moves to Syria or forgets to file his nomination papers he's going back to Ottawa.
In fact, 120 of the 338 ridings in this election already (as of 2015-08-12) have a frontrunner with a projected 90% or better chance of winning. For voters in those ridings, this election was over before it started.
You will be encouraged to vote. You might even be told your vote matters. For over a third of Canadian voters, including Battle River—Crowfoot, that won't be true, at least in terms of influencing the composition of the House of Commons.
For people in these 'done deal' ridings, whether you pick the winner or not, you will not influence the outcome of the election.
A 'win-more' vote for the Conservatives matters exactly as much as a write-in vote for Santa Claus.
And that's disappointing, because the system can't tell the difference between winning a riding with 95% of the vote and winning a close three-way race with 35% support.
If we want the dēmos (people) to kratia (rule), which is the point of democracy, we should use a system that represents the wishes of Canadians as closely as possible.
This is not that system.
So unless you read this from a riding that's actually competitive, you can snuggle into a warm blanket of ignorance and bliss because your vote doesn't matter.

For the sake of democracy, responsible governance and the future of our country, it really should.

Originally published 2015-08-12, and targeted at Battle River—Crowfoot. If you're in one of the swing ridings, your vote matters a lot.

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Vote anyway

The chances your vote will decide the election are pretty small. Multiply that by the difference between electing an MLA you prefer and someone else. The marginal benefit for casting a ballot is vanishingly small.

If that's the extent of your calculations, you'll pretty quickly recognize that voting is a waste of energy. A twenty minute nap would probably do more for your long term well being.

The voting system we have is mostly a legacy system we have whose chief benefit is that it's easy to count. Its downsides are many, including that it 'wastes' most of the votes.
What's worse, the system itself encourages you to lie. People talk about "Strategic Voting" but it's really just lying on the election, and that only helps because an inefficient system makes that the best approach to a bad situation.

Any rational elector whose favourite candidate is unlikely to win will instead cast their ballot for a candidate they can tolerate 'with a chance'. But that's a guessing game.
There are lots of better systems that can take into account a nuanced, educated electorate. They can get more information out of the ballots and create a Legislative Assembly more closely aligned with the objectives of the people they represent.

Alberta is a complex province and deserves a legislature which adequately reflects that complexity. The electoral system is lousy, but it's the one we have. Electoral reform would be nice, but that won't happen before Tuesday.

Vote anyway.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Canada: A Clean Energy Superpower

Avro Arrow. Canada can do awesome stuff when we put our minds to it.
Photo: Government of Canada, Department of National Defense. // Wikipedia.
Imagine you're walking from Tofino BC to St. John's NL along the Trans-Canada Highway. For every three minutes you walk on the highway, you build a million dollar mansion, all the way across the country. By the time you get to St. John's, you will have built $12 Billion in mansions.
The Energy East Pipeline project is projected to cost $12 Billion. Not a good investment.
If the pipeline is built, either we roast the climate or we waste the investment by turning the pipe off. Neither of those approaches are any good in the long run, but we can avoid those lousy outcomes in advance.
Here's how: We want to be an energy superpower. We're Canadian and we can do that like crazy. Instead of building a pipe, we could build 3000 MW of clean solar capacity or 6000 MW of clean wind power instead.
Becoming a clean energy superpower would revitalize Canada's manufacturing sector and provide energy jobs in without compromising the climate.
These generators could come online immediately, rather than waiting for the entire investment to be ready.
If you're one of those guys who are awesome at building pipelines, we need you most of all. Your project management skills, determination and drive will serve the country and the world well as we develop our clean energy infrastructure.

Becoming a clean energy superpower will help Canada reclaim a leadership role in the world and demonstrate how we kick butt when we put our minds to it.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

The two second rule

Yep. The fountain I wanted was one of the green ones on the top shelf.
Not quite first order access, even though it's in front.
Keep any tool you actually want to use within two seconds of being useful.
You want to be able to make use of whatever you need without losing your concentration. Your use of a tool drops off significantly if it takes you more than two seconds to access it.
Glancing at a watch is easy and immediate. If you had to walk across the room to check the time you wouldn't do it unless you really wanted to know it. 
This goes for kitchen or shop organization too. Put everything in front. That way the right tool for the job is immediately available. (Then put it back where you found it.)
When you reduce the friction between getting your tools and doing your work, you'll reduce the psychological barriers that slow you down.
This is how you get out of your own way when trying to accomplish things.
It applies at other scales too. People tend to make good use of neighbourhood playgrounds and greenspace if it's within a three minute (240m) walk from their house. Beyond that, usage drops off like crazy. The distance outweighs the benefit. It's the same principle at a different scale. To actually use it, remove the barriers.

Corollary: Get rid of things you don't want to use. If you can't get rid of them at least make them inconvenient. Save money by leaving credit cards at home. Hide the halloween candy and make sure handy snacks are healthy snacks.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Just the best, please

Look at you. You obviously have great taste in clothes. You know what looks good and what to avoid. Here's some meta-style advice that will simplify your life, unclutter your closet and help you look your best.

Just wear the good stuff.

Turf the rest.

Not all the cars in a Nascar race come in first. No matter what your wardrobe is currently like, some of your clothes suit you better than others. You wear some clothes lots, while others pad your closet.

Project 333 has thrown down the gauntlet against overstuffed closets.

Here's how it works: Pick 33 items of clothing. That's your wardrobe for the next three months. Burn your ships. Discard, donate or sell the clothes that didn't make the cut.

If you save your 'ugly' clothes in your basement, you'll miss out on some of the benefit. By preemptively pruning your choices, picking what to wear becomes much easier. You won't waste energy wondering if you should look elsewhere. However, it's okay to stash a few seasonal items that don't make your 33 this season.

The Project 333 website has loopholes (like sleepwear) if you need a little leniency.

You'll look better and feel better. You're only wearing your best clothes, and there's less decision fatigue when you have fewer things to pick from. Save your limited decision making energy for things that matter.

Then in three months, switch it up for next season and go again.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

You have enough.

Though you might not realize it yet.
It's a bit of a Catch 22: You can only get enough by discovering you already have it.
Those who chase money or fame will never have enough.
It's not about money or stuff. In fact, everyone you know has too many things, and would actually be happier owning fewer things. Recycle, give away, donate or trash three things today. It'll feel liberating. Do it again tomorrow.
Stay off the hedonic treadmill. Things you want are wonderful, when you get them they turn into things you have, and you don't get to want them anymore.
Kurt Vonnegut, in his 93-word poem "Joe Heller" articulated it clearly, observing that a billionare could have made more money yesterday than Joseph Heller's novel "Catch 22" ever did. Joe's response:

Beyond that, find something bigger than you that matters and contribute your energy to it.
Even if your goal is happiness, trying to be happy for your own sake isn't likely to succeed. You are far more likely to achieve happiness as a byproduct of working towards something you find meaningful, even if you never achieve it, than you will by making happiness the goal.
Know that you have enough.
Know that you matter.
You can pour yourself into something meaningful, and you can be happy.
That's something you can be thankful for.

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Reality, Survival and Freedom

Reality: What's true is true and can't be negotiated or ignored.
Survival: Every citizen needs to meet their physiological needs now and in the future: Air. Water. Food. Thermoregulation. This is not negotiable. The alternative is lethal.
Freedom: Once we have confidence in our immediate survival, we want to be free to do what we want.
Embrace reality. Survival and freedom for all. Any defensible governance model must champion those principles both at home and abroad.
Survival trumps freedom. Your right to survive supersedes everyone else's freedom to kill you. Your right to drink clean water and breathe clean air supersedes everyone else's freedom to pollute it.
You get the moral authority to these rights by affording them to others.
With reality, survival and freedom you can derive the rest.
Ecology: Protect the ability of the world to meet our physiological needs, so we can survive in perpetuity.
Science: Learn how the world works so we can ensure it continues to meet our needs.
Rules: We ensure our freedom by protecting the freedoms of all. This can mean restricting individual freedoms to achieve broader objectives: Drive on the right. Stop at stop signs. Don't steal. Pay your taxes. That sort of thing.
We cheerfully forfeit our 'freedom' to drive on the left so that we can all get where we're going.

The rest of politics is ideology and posturing. It's pretty wide open, but any governing body that violates these principles loses its moral authority to govern.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Status quo economics leaves you busy, tired.

The typical North American approach: Get a mortgage to buy a house, then get a credit card to fill it with stuff. That approach locks you onto the economic treadmill where you're working for the bank.
As dual income families became the norm, the price of houses rose to match what these dual earners could borrow and ostensibly repay.
If this reminds you of your situation, then to make that mortgage payment you'll have to work pretty hard and make choices based on serving your creditors first, rather than your family or your goals.
The 'health' of the economy depends on the continued expansion of the money supply, based on peoples' promises to repay it, with interest.
Note: The economy doesn't have a health. It's a bad metaphor. Continued growth is good for the status quo because that means the music's still playing. In musical chairs, there are no losers until the music stops.
The machines and electric servants that are the result of human ingenuity should have made our lives much easier.
Instead, we're as busy as ever. 'Busy' and 'tired' are all-too common answers to the 'how are you doing' question. Busy and tired are symptoms of having bought into the system where you work for the bank.
If you didn't owe any money and had a free place to live, you wouldn't have to work so hard. Instead, that interest treadmill makes sure you're running as hard as you can so you don't fall behind the rest and lose the house.
Economic growth is the smokescreen that allows global winners to stay on top while still promising the global poor a dream of prosperity.
Continuing to feed the banks record profits while plundering the resources of the world and exhausting your personal energy is not a worthy goal.
Unfortunately, understanding the precariousness of the current economy is still a long way from successfully restructuring it to a steady state system, like you'd see in a climax ecosystem.
A solution would involve a deeper understanding of value separate and distinct from money. More likely a combination of vibrant relationships, clean water and the time and energy to do as you please, even if that means less stuff and a small house.

Good luck taking that to the bank, that is - if you can find the time and energy.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

State of the chessboard

White: Mate in 2.
Jim Prentice, Alberta Premier. Status: Not currently elected? Check. Appointing ministers who also aren't elected? Also check.
Let's set aside various affronts to representative democracy for a moment. Yes. It's outrageous. And that isn't the big problem. Look a few moves ahead.
The Harper government intends to make Canada the best place in the world for energy investment.
FIPA: The Foreign Investment Promotion and Protection Act.
If you've ever been sold into slavery, you have some idea of what's going on. Chinese investors in Canada can claim damages, in secret, for anything that reduces their investment payoffs.
FIPA is locked in for a generation without recourse to Canadian law. Hardly mentioned in the House. It comes into force October 1. Check.
Premier Jim is ideally suited to facilitating a pipeline to somewhere. Keeping the Aboriginal and International portfolios may signal that intent.
So Jim comes to Alberta and appeases the Natives so pipelines can send fossil energy to China.
Canada gets Chinese investment money so we can dig faster. Also we have to do what we're told or pay for it.
Chinese interests trump national interest, and we expand fossil energy development ...because Canada's the best place in the world for energy investment. Checkmate.
Carbon emissions accelerate. The planet becomes dreadfully uncomfortable. Chinese mutual funds post record profits.
When you give up the environment (or your national integrity) for the economy, you end up with neither.

Let's hope it plays out differently.