Sunday, December 16, 2012

Why matters, even though the world won't end.

This is way bigger than New Year's. December 21, 2012 (also known as in the Mayan system) marks the end of the Mayan Long Count Calendar, a 5125 year long cycle.
On the one hand, it's just numbers. So were Y2K and 12-12-12. On another, it's an opportunity for reflection on something much bigger than a measly new year.
What's this civilization for? What's humanity's role as the consciousness of the universe?
This cycle of the Long Count Mayan Calendar goes back five hundred years before the they started building pyramids in Egypt. This cycle started August 11, 3114 BC and covers recorded human history. Recorded as in ever since we figured out writing.
The cycle before that takes us back to when human civilization began. It took us that first cycle to get to writing.
The leap between oral and written records takes information from transitory as sound waves to permanent and written down. From something ephemeral and remembered to something concrete and enduring.
This is the cycle that took us from writing to the internet. The internet replaces some information, somewhere with all information, everywhere. From your cell phone, you can get to approximately all human knowledge. That changes what's possible in ways we can't really fathom.
We have seen the story of humanity's rise to planetary dominance. No contest there anymore. The world's stable climate took care of us.
The next 5125 years will be about what happens to that dominance in a world which is suffering under the hungry mouths of the 7 Billion.
We're now the global gardeners. How do we remake the cradle of civilization into our city, our starship, our greenhouse, and our playground, while leaving the ecosystem services that support us intact.
Is this the part where we take to the stars or fade away?
Starting December 21, by your action or inaction, you will help set the direction of our civilization for the next cycle of the calendar.
What do you want the next cycle to mean?

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Saturday, September 1, 2012

Turn your fog lights off: See better

The vast majority of the time fog lights should be off so you can see better. It's a little counterintuitive.
When it's foggy and you can't see very far down the road fog lights illuminate the road right in front of you so you can see the lines on the road and stay in your lane at safe, slow speeds. Fog lights also look great in car company marketing materials.
When it's not foggy, turning them off is safer: Fog lights increase brightness up close but not down the road. When driving at speed in good weather you need to be looking much further down the road in order to drive effectively.
With fog lights on, the increased brightness of the scene causes your irises to constrict, making it harder to see the important part of the scene that's way off in the distance. The fog lights trick you into thinking it's good lighting (because it's brighter), when it's actually worse because you can't see as well down the road.
Turning them off is better for everybody else too. Fog lights that are left on cause glare for other drivers. You have your daytime running lights so that they can see you. More than that is excessive and distracting.
Keeping your fog lights off is a way of being able to see better with your headlights at night, as well as being courteous to the other drivers on the road, in the same way that dimming your high-beams when you approach an oncoming vehicle on the highway is courteous.
If you see someone with their fog lights on, one of three things is probably true: Either they don't know they have fog lights, they don't understand the glare they're imposing on other drivers, or they've been duped into preferring the brighter scene. Either way, consider yourself encouraged to enlighten them.
You can't change where you are, and you can't really change what's right in front of you, so don't waste light or attention on that. Focus instead on what's down the road. Small changes now will keep you headed where you want to go in the long term.
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Sunday, August 5, 2012

Curiosity - Another kind of inspiration.

Entry, Descent, and Landing: Seven Minutes of Terror.
Watch coverage of the landing here.

We now break from the Olympics for an authentic human achievement. When we put our minds to it, we can accomplish some truly amazing things.
Late Sunday evening the Curiosity rover will land at Gale Crater on Mars. It launched November 26, 2011 and has been flying the half a billion km to Mars ever since.
The $2.5 billion project (about what Google paid for Groupon, or 2 days worth of interest on the US National Debt) will land a robot on Mars.
The 899kg rover, Curiosity, which would just fit inside a spare bedroom next will land next to a 6 km mountain that will provide some insight into whether life ever could have existed on Mars.
The entry, descent and landing system is a marvel of engineering, slowing the spacecraft down from 13200 Miles per hour (about Mach 17) to a soft set down on the wheels about 7 minutes later, without human intervention.
Not only does it take seven minutes to get from the top of the atmosphere to the surface, but it takes about 14 minutes for signals to reach Earth from Mars. The most dangerous part of the mission is already over by the time we hear that it's started.
Watch the Curiosity: 'Seven Minutes of Terror' video for a sense of the intense engineering that will make this landing both possible and amazing, then take a break from the Olympics to watch live online coverage of the landing Sunday night. Find out whether the heat shield, parachute, rockets, and skycrane all worked as expected.
The Olympics are a fantastic example of the world coming together to compete. The teamwork necessary to put a rover on Mars trumps any teamwork the US Basketball team, the Silver Medal winning Canadian Men's Eights rowing crew, and the Chinese Badminton team could accomplish.
Parallel to the Olympics, but less televised, is a major cultural festival in London, and it's fitting that the Curiosity landing will take place then. This landing is an example of what we can do when we dare mighty things.
Even if you don't care about Mars, the pure science and engineering that make this sort of mission possible tends usually pays off in applications here on earth too.
Olympic athletes are great examples of physical human achievement. Curiosity's journey is an example of what we can do when we marshall our minds and our tools instead.
No medals, just an epic, curious journey. It's just one example of what's possible if we work together. What else can we accomplish?
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Sunday, May 13, 2012

This is not an emergency.

Emergencies are times of action, where you respond to a specific threat. No time for thinking, priorities, or negotiation, just action. But now, before any emergency, is when you can prepare.
First things first: Avoid emergencies. Some advice from a self-defence instructor applies here: Don't be there when the fight happens, then you won't get hurt.
Strangely, the more prepared you are for emergencies, the less likely you are to encounter one.
Communicate with your tribe ahead of time about potential issues and solutions.
The communication in advance about what to do in an emergency can be vital when communication is cut off. 'Hey everybody, if the house is on fire, get out and meet by the mailbox' can eliminate a lot of uncertainty.
If the only vehicle available to get someone to a hospital in an emergency has a key stashed in the toolbox, make sure several people know about it.
If you're hiking, tell people where you're going and when you're going to be back, and then let them know you got back safely. If you don't return, they're your best shot at rescue.
Some emergencies are unavoidable so you'd best be ready, because the only time you can prepare for emergencies is in advance.
There are two basic kinds of solutions: skills and resources.
In an health emergency the skills that come with first-aid training are essential for handling the emergency successfully. Consider some first-aid training, and be ready to call an ambulance.
If you find yourself in a self-defence situation, you need the skills now, not in a few minutes.
Some problems don't need skills, they need resources. Put together a household emergency kit that could keep you going in the house without power, heat, water and television for at least 72 hours.
Details for what a good kit needs are available at What a better way to celebrate Emergency Preparedness Week (May 6-12) than by getting a kit together with your family.
Some emergencies can only be fixed with a specific resource: money. Broken furnace? Money. Lost your job? Money. Cellphone fell in the lake? Money. Get at least $1000 into an emergency fund as soon as possible, then grow it until you can handle anything life throws at you.
Practice the skills you'll need, communicate in advance and stash the resources to endure an emergency. Hopefully it won't be necessary but if it is you'll be glad you're ready. In the meantime, enjoy the peace of mind.
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Thursday, May 3, 2012

Secondary markets: Save money, save space.

Maybe someone else will want this.

Take advantage of the secondary market. If you buy new stuff it's used once you get it home anyway. Buying used will build community connections and give someone their space back, without needing to use the resources to have something new manufactured.
By selling your stuff you can recoup space in your house, pocket some money, and help someone who's looking for just the thing you want to be rid of. If one man's trash is another man's treasure we just need to connect the dots.
People often look at used for houses and cars, but it can work for smaller items too. 
New is easy, shiny and expensive. It typically means fresh materials The secondary market takes a little more energy, but has payoffs beyond simply buying less expensive stuff.
Cheap acquisition: The things you buy in the secondary market are cheaper, sometimes significantly so, than buying something new from the store. If someone's selling something, they're usually eager to part with it and reclaim the space. Even though it's probably going for below market value it's still a win-win.
All that clutter carries a mental burden, and some of that stuff is certainly under-utilized, and you could part with it and reclaim the space. Even if you're not on the short list for an episode of 'Hoarders' you could probably do with less clutter.
If you don't need it, you don't have to store it. You can sell it instead.
Open space is valuable. Sometimes empty space is worth more than the thing you have filling it. There was a story about someone who parked his vehicle in airport parking, flew across the country, rented a car for a week there, then returned, discovering that parking his car cost more than the rental car did. The empty space where you could put a car was worth more than the use of a car.
There are social and environmental benefits of the secondary market too.
Buying and selling within the community is one way to build the social connections that help a community thrive. The trust, the spirit of helping out your neighbours makes life a little better within the community.
Environmentally, getting the benefit of someone's gently used couch, baby clothes, decorations or what have you means that new ones don't need to be manufactured to fill that need. That's less resources harvested to provide the same benefit.
Community resources like the Habitat for Humanity Restore, thrift stores, Freecycle, for sale or want-ads in the classifieds, or electronic listings like Facebook groups or Kijiji can facilitate these secondary market transactions.
If you need it, why not get it used? If it's in your way, why not sell it to someone who wants it?
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Monday, April 30, 2012

Taxes: The price of civilization

How to feel better about paying taxes.
Taxes are a bargain. Here's why:
Even if you kept every penny you pay in taxes, you wouldn't be able to afford the benefits you get by 'sharing' some of your wealth with the government.
"Taxes are what we pay for a civilized society" wrote U.S. Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. in a 1927 decision.
What do you get for your money?
Your country's borders and foreign interests are protected by a highly trained and well equipped military.
Within the country, we are protected by civil and criminal laws which defend us against all manner of offences. This is backed up by a police force which will restrain and if necessary incarcerate people who break our rules.
The food we buy in the grocery stores is scrutinized and so safe that we don't think twice about trusting it.
The network of paved roads that we can drive on without paying tolls is so extensive, and provides a benefit beyond merely our driving on it. It also allows for the economical transportation of most of the goods we buy.
Children are provided with an extensive and comprehensive education from kindergarten to grade 12, including trained teachers, suitable facilities and all sorts of enrichment so that they can me well prepared for life as adults.
If you are sick or injured there are hospitals and clinics that will help you get well again. If you are down on your luck there are systems that will help get you back on your feet again.
We maintain amicable foreign relations with other countries so that, by demonstrating with your passport that you are from Canada, you can gain access to many other countries.
All this (and much more) would be difficult to negotiate or afford on an individual basis.
Taxes are a pain, certainly. They take some of your money, and that's unpleasant. Paying taxes feels separate and distinct from the systems and protections you receive for paying them. 
It's a fair exchange. We elect people who decide how to tax us, and then they spend the money to benefit us all. That's no excuse for inefficiencies in the spending or in the systems, and we should buy the civilization we want at the best possible price.
How much is civilization worth to you? How much does it cost you in taxes? Even with all the forms, schedules and complex expensive tedium that comes with taxation, it's worth it.
We can do more together than we can apart.
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Thursday, April 19, 2012

Do you vote for Crazy?

Imagine an electoral scenario where two parties, we'll call them 'Crazy' and 'Crazier' are the front runners - both at 45% in the polls. In this hypothetical scenario, Crazy will raise taxes 50%, and Crazier will raise taxes 100%.
You prefer 'Safe' who doesn't want to raise taxes at all, but they're polling at 10% and don't have any chance of winning.
Question: Do you throw your vote away on Safe to make a statement or vote for Crazy, hoping to keep Crazier out of office?
Voting for Crazy means lying on your ballot, because you'd rather have 'Safe' win the election. In an election between Crazy and Crazier, you come out better (with lower taxes in this simple scenario) by electing Crazy than by voting for Safe.
The election system is lousy. It's hard to change, because whoever's in charge was elected thanks in part to the biased system they benefitted from. Fixing the system would mean giving up power.
A system which allowed you to rank your preferences would let you vote honestly, declare your true preferences for Safe, while still making clear that you'd prefer Crazy over Crazier.
Or do you even bother voting?
There are two reasons to vote, and two reasons not to, according to Riker and Ordeshook's "Calculus of Voting" (1968).
It's your duty (D) to vote, and your vote might determine the election (π) and therefore benefit you (B). Voting costs (C): it takes time and effort to decide who to vote for, and time and effort to go to the polls. If πB+D>C, then you vote.
The probability of casting a decisive vote is vanishingly small, so mostly it comes down to how each citizen values voting against the effort of doing so, and against better uses of their time.
Corollary: If everyone else realizes their votes won't matter and stays home, then when you vote, you'll decide the election all by yourself.
Of course you aren't likely to cast the only vote either. What actually happens is somewhere in between, approaching the Nash equilibrium (A Beautiful Mind) for whether it's worth voting or not.
You might also like some of my other posts about voting & elections:

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Feeding the 7 Billion.

On Halloween 2011, the world reached 7 Billion people. That's a lot of goblins. Forget trying to identifying the lucky kid (most likely Indian, where there's 50 births per minute), instead it's time to reflect on how we got here and our prospects for the future.
Over our ten thousand year history since humanity began agriculture, our population grew slowly and smoothly up until about 1800.
Human population has exploded over the last 200 years. We hit 1 Billion people in 1804, and 7 Billion last week. Our population has doubled since Expo 67 in Montreal. Put another way, we've added more people than existed on earth in 1927 (2 Billion) since Expo 86 in Vancouver.
That's a lot of hungry people. Except that for the most part, they're not hungry. There's food for them. In any ecological niche, population expands in lockstep with food supply. More food means more people, less food - if that were to happen - would mean fewer people.
In 1800 we were already closing in on the human carrying capacity for the planet. Carrying capacity is the population that an environment can support in perpetuity.
We're way above the number of people (estimated at 1-2 Billion) who can live on earth in prosperity permanently. How's that possible? By temporarily exceeding our carrying capacity through the use of non-renewable resources.
Since the industrial revolution, we've introduced coal, oil and gas to mechanize agriculture and provide fossil-fuel based fertilizers and pesticides to increase food production.
This wildly increased food production allows us to temporarily exceed the planet's carrying capacity, as long as we continue to exploit non-renewable resources to keep our food supply up.
Of course this can't continue forever. To avoid catastrophic population crashes, we need to re-learn how to make food without non-renewable inputs. The local gardeners and permaculturists are on the right track. Growing food in an urban or suburban setting is a way of insulating yourself from potential food shortages.
Peak oil will cause transportation problems to be sure, but the problems that really hit you where you live will be due to food scarcity.
Even if all your neighbours think lawns are pretty, their new best friend is going to be the one with the garden when food supply starts to be an issue. It's better to figure out food production while the grocery store is still a great backup than having to grow food while you're hungry.
Originally published November 4, 2011.
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Tuesday, March 27, 2012

How babies trump economic growth

Less than an hour old.

Babies are wonderful. They start out tiny, then they grow and grow and grow.
They keep putting on weight as they grow into full size adults. Then they stop growing.
We don't want to grow forever. That's pretty clear. The weight loss industry is proof of that. We want to have healthy, fit bodies that can support our pursuit of happiness.
The Federal Government last week downgraded it's projections for economic growth for the next few years. As far as the economy is concerned, it's heresy to question the wisdom of continuous exponential growth.
Consider it questioned. Why is growth so sacred?
Growth is the only way to pay interest on debt, which is spiralling out of control. Growth involves increasing our use of natural resources. Those resources are being used faster than they are being replenished.
Taken to its logical conclusion, we will use up the limited resources, collapsing the web of life on which we rely, and doom ourselves to a global crash that will live forever in the geological record.
Why? Because we've become slaves to the system we created. The majority of your mortgage payments are interest. Most of your energy decisions are already made far into the future. 
Options: Create a scenario in which we remove our limits. This involves massive space exploration, terraforming Mars at the very least, and escaping our cradle planet for the planets around neighbouring stars. Yes, farfetched.
Or we learn to live within our limits, accept that we can't grow forever, and instead strive to create the equivalent of a stable climax ecosystem. A planetary economy that does not grow, but rather endures forever. Allowing us to live within our limits as the global conscience and consciousness of the earth.
The system is our system. The crises are our crises. We can change the system. We can fix this, or we can stay the course. Not both.
We don't need growth to realize our potential as a species. We need to exist symbiotically with the geography of our prosperity, taking and giving back as we balance the needs of all life. We'll get our happiness back.
If your baby's leg was broken or it had a fever, you would do what you could to get it fixed. The same thing goes for our wetlands, our atmosphere and our ecosystems. They're all extensions of ourselves. The baby's going to need her ecosystems just like she's going to need her legs and her lungs. Let's do what we can to fix them.
Originally published October 29, 2011
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Saturday, March 24, 2012

A weigh to reduce garbage

Residential garbage makes up a third of the waste that we currently send to landfills. By aligning our incentives and weighing our garbage, we can reduce the amount of waste we send to the landfill and save money.
In a perfect world we wouldn't need landfill anything, and we can get most of the way there. Let's look at the situation.
First, the big picture: World population is increasing, while resources are decreasing. The price of raw materials is only going to go up.
If you're looking for raw materials, the waste stream is a great place to find them, often at a discount. When you factor in the fact that you don't have to pay ~$100 per tonne to landfill them, recycling becomes even more of a bargain.
Municipalities pay for waste in tonnes, because it's easy to measure. Technology has come far enough that with a little equipment on the garbage truck, it could weigh the container before and after emptying and charge residents by weight. Less garbage means a smaller bill.
This system would reward people who don't make much garbage and encourage people who have lots of garbage to reduce their waste.
The other big way to significantly reduce residential contributions to landfill is to divert organics. About half of residential garbage is organic, split evenly between yard waste and kitchen organics.
Composting these costs about half as much per tonne as collecting and landfilling yard waste, and a valuable product is obtained at the end. Nutrients stay in the nutrient cycle, rather than being buried in the landfill.
A collection system that would weigh and compost the organics at half the cost of the garbage would encourage people to separate the two, while not penalizing the people who use backyard composters and leave their grass clippings on their lawn.
Keeping the organics separate and out of the landfills would feed the soil, which feeds the plants, which feed the people again. Maintaining those nutrients in the cycle is good for our tummies and our pocketbooks.
It's certainly a shift in the way we approach things, but a focus on waste reduction can come along with cost reductions, especially as landfill tipping fees continue to rise.
There are certainly some transition costs associated with changing status quo, but whether the motivation is personal cost savings or the environmental factors, maybe we can have our cake and eat it too.
p.s. In case you're wondering, the other two categories that make up the rest are ICI (Institutional, Commercial, Industrial) at ~40% and Construction & Demolition waste at ~27% of the waste stream.
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Garbage Day. (This is where I recycled today's picture from.)
Waste Reduction: Garbage and Time
Compost: Nature's Recycle Depot

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Your time is limited, don't waste it.

When great people die before their time, it helps remind us all our time is limited, and we mourn both the loss of a hero and the loss of what they still had to contribute.
Entertainers and leaders are easiest to identify in this category. People like John Lennon (40), Jack Layton (61), John F Kennedy (46), Elvis Presley (42), Martin Luther King(39), Buddy Holly (22), James Dean (24), Princess Diana (36), Janis Joplin (27), Heath Ledger (28) all had more to contribute.
It's not often we see billionaire CEOs this broadly mourned, but Apple's founder and CEO Steve Jobs (who died Oct 5 at age 56) was no ordinary entrepreneur.
Part visionary, part showman, part perfectionist, part CEO, part Santa Claus for grown-ups, Steve set the direction for technology, bringing style, user experience, and performance to everything he touched.
Apple Computer made technology user friendly, and brought two major revolutions in user interface to the market. The first was the mouse and graphical user interface, which Jobs saw at Xerox, and the second is the touchscreen, currently appearing on iPhones and iPads everywhere.
Jobs was an artist, obsessed with the details. Between Pixar and Apple, both have become wildly successful and built legions of devoted fans. He predicted the future not with a crystal ball, but by inventing it and bringing us along for the ride. Fans looked forward to product announcements like they looked forward to Christmas.
He nailed the big picture too: In a commencement address at Stanford in 2005 he recognized the usefulness of death as life's change agent. "Your time is limited, so don't waste it living someone else's life. … And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become."
You can find the full video on Youtube. It's worth watching, and can set the tone for an amazing life.
Follow your intuition. Take action. Don't get trapped in the safety of the tried and tired. Whether or not you spend most of your time within arms reach of something Jobs had a hand in designing, his recommendations for living fully are spot on.
Steve Jobs certainly had more to contribute, and we will miss his insanely great influence on the direction of technology. Thanks Steve.
Originally published October 15, 2011.
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Saturday, February 4, 2012

Spoiling election spoilers

What if you ranked them instead?

The second round of the PC Leadership race is a great example of how elections should work.
Let's set aside the issues for a moment and look at the system: It's a three person race, and the objective is to satisfy as many of the voters as possible.
If you simply go with the first choices, Mar wins with 42.51% of the vote, and in a choice between him and Redford, you satisfy 48.89% of the people, leaving 51.11% disappointed with the outcome.
Horner's presence in the round would waste votes, allowing the least preferred of the top two candidates to be selected.
By allowing electors to indicate a second preference, this allows them to vote honestly rather than strategically. It also makes the campaign a little friendlier, rather than rejecting supporters of other camps, you can listen to them and earn their support for second choice ballots.
Most importantly, it keeps the system from determining the outcome. No matter how many people are in the race, you won't have spoilers.
Because of this system, Doug Horner didn't steal the race from Redford. Given the choice between Redford and Mar, the majority chose Redford. Simple, and more of the voters are satisfied.
For a counterexample, where this wasn't used, look at the 2000 presidential election between George W. Bush and Al Gore. Ralph Nader ended up with 97,488 votes - well over the 537 votes that Bush ended up winning by.
Had Nader not been in the running, those votes would have split overwhelmingly in favour of Gore, and elected him instead. Or, if those people who voted for Nader had the opportunity to indicate a second preference, the outcome would have been similarly altered. The system didn't allow that, which left the election to Bush. And you know how well that turned out.
This preferential ballot system should be applied to our elections for Mayors, MLAs, and MPs.
This system of ranking candidates requires a little more cognitive overhead than simply marking an X. We're smart enough for that. This will make campaigns more friendly, allow constituents to vote more honestly, and provide results that satisfy more of the voters, without being ruined by spoiler candidates.
Mathematically, more people will be happy with the results under this ranking system than the simplistic system we have now.
Originally published October 7, 2011
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Saturday, January 28, 2012

Satisfaction, The IKEA effect, and you.

You might have it in your house: that piece of swedish furniture that came in pieces. It feels good, doesn't it, to know that you put it together yourself.
People researched this sort of thing. Named the IKEA effect: people place a higher value on things that they build themselves than things they don't.
As long as it's not too hard, people may even pay more for things that require them to do some of the work.
Psychologically, some of the difference has to do with looking forward vs. looking back. People tend to want to avoid work, but value more highly the things they had to work hard for for. That's the difference between 'to-do' and 'done'.
For example: You'll savour the apple pie you made yourself - with a fresh fork and everything, but you won't pay as much attention to the discount box of cookies that fell into the shopping cart.
Calories used to be hard to come by, now they're easy. Fast food restaurants have mechanized the delivery of foods - like french fries - that are hard to prepare at home. You don't appreciate them as much, and perversely try to eat more in order to be satisfied. By the way, the first two bites of dessert are the tastiest: Share it with a friend.
Same with distance and exotic locales. With a credit card and a passport you could be in Japan in 24 hours. If it was going to take two weeks or two months to go somewhere, you'd certainly do your research and appreciate your time there more.
How can this make your better? To extract more value out of your experiences, you need to put more into them.
For your food: The typical restaurant experience is pretty forgettable. If you cook it yourself, you'll appreciate the result more you would the same dish ordered at a restaurant.
Growing up, knowing that something was 'from our garden' always gave it additional prestige on the dinner plate, and made us appreciate it more. Bonus points if you grow the food yourself. The same goes for berries you pick or, indeed, furniture that you built yourself.
The to-do list sounds like work, the to-have-done list sounds like reflections on accomplishment. Change the name of the list, put more effort into it and feel the satisfaction of a complete and deserved experience.
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Sunday, January 22, 2012

The role of art in community

"Art is anything you can get away with." -Marshall McLuhan, Understanding Media (1964)
Art is the spice enlivening the meat and potatoes of our built environment. It directs the conversation, draws our attention to things we might otherwise ignore, and helps us understand who we are.
That goes for the art we keep in our houses as well as the public art that graces parks, and the murals that adorn the sides of buildings.
The distilled effort and focused intention made real creates something unique, conversation-worthy, and valuable.
Art provides a physical artifact documenting the same focused intention that makes us appreciate watching someone sink a long putt, dance ballet, or conduct a symphony orchestra. Even if you don't like golf, ballet, or the orchestra, you still recognize the focused effort that goes into finessing the performance.
The art you put on your walls is more than just decoration. It's an expression of who you are, how you see yourself, and how you want others to see you.
Public art acts the same way in helping us define our identity as a community. Between public art, the nature of the public space, and the architecture of the buildings we inhabit, it directs what we care about in our community subtly and constantly.
Take an interest in the public art. Understand the message. There's a marked difference between the communities adorned with statues of the supreme leaders you might see in communist China, the religious art across europe during the renaissance, and the abstract sculptures or decorated cows you might see on the streets of Calgary.
Public art is a form of mass media that is more primal than TV or newspapers. It becomes part of the community and helps direct the discussion.
Support your local artists. The vision, commentary, self-concept and vitality that they add to the local community are difficult to obtain any other way. The value may not be immediately apparent, but try to imagine a community without it.

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Why Decoration is Relevant
What do we care about?
Small Town Feel

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Your willpower is limited. Here's how to manage it.

Mmm. Sugar. That will boost my willpower.

You can't do a million push-ups. Your muscles can't take it. Willpower is like a muscle too, and if it gets exhausted it doesn't work as well.
Self restraint, task persistence, willpower and decision making all burn the same brain fuel, glucose. Depleting the glucose means worse performance in all those areas later in the day.
For example, dieting is difficult because your willpower is weakest when you're low on glucose. It's a catch-22 The foods you're craving are exactly what would give you the sugar your brain is looking for, but they also have the calories your figure is trying to avoid.
But you're not doomed. Eat more smaller portions to keep some glucose in your brain. Establish systems, by putting together healthy snacks in advance. Keep tempting items out of sight and out of mind. Resisting the cookies you know are in the cupboard is still a drain on the decision making and the willpower, but it's easier than resisting the cookies right in front of you.
This psychological effect has a bigger impact on people living in poverty. If you're wealthy, when you feel the need to go buy something, you simply go buy it. However, if your resources are limited, you need to evaluate the trade-offs and opportunity costs for every purchase. Buying something you need would mean not buying something else you need. Medicine or food?
This means less willpower or discipline left over for other things wealthier people might take for granted.
When willpower is weakest people tend to become impulsive, failing to think things through, or take the easy way out by not making any decision at all. Of course, if you don't make your own decisions, someone else will gladly make them for you, and they may not have your best interests at heart.
In this case, knowledge is power. What can you do to take advantage of your cycles of willpower?
Make important decisions early in in the day.
Decide what's important to you, and put systems in place to make it happen. Rely on systems rather than day-to-day willpower.
Sugar can help rebuild glucose stores in the brain. Artificial sweeteners don't.
'Sleeping on it' can help, then make your decision early the next day.
Make decisions in advance and build them into your routines. Flossing your teeth, for example, can become part of the routine, rather than something you have to decide to do. 
If you want to maintain your ability to make good decisions, avoid situations where you need to restrain yourself. Restraining yourself from impulses or making tough decisions wears you down and makes you more vulnerable in other seemingly unrelated situations.
Originally published September 17, 2011
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