Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Distraction Deterrents in Small Contexts

"distracted from distraction by distraction"
- T.S. Eliot
I've been reading a little on how Facebook and other social networking software are designed to grab your attention. A strategy is quick reward. You get little shots of dopamine for clicking on a button and seeing an immediate result.

It gets me thinking. Why do books increase our attention span over a web-page? Both are strings of words on a rectangular, white page. In that regard, they are the same. Web pages are faster, yes; and you can click them to get rewards in looking at new content. And this does indeed help explain why we are tempted to jump around online in a non-focused manner.

But why do we find it easier dive in deep in reading physical books?

If it is easier to jump around web-pages, it's more cumbersome to discard a book. You have to put it down (carefully) and get up to pick another book. So we stick around so long as the book still gives us pleasure enough, because changing activities seems unpleasant.

What's going on, I think, is a kind of cost-reward assessment. We are balancing the rewards of continuing an activity vs. starting a new one. Starting new stuff is more exciting than struggling to the end.

Here we have, in small, the idea of binding ourselves to norms for living more meaningfully: "I will install software that keeps me from checking Facebook every few minutes," or "I will only bring one important book with me to a remote spot in the woods." Like Odysseus, we must bind ourselves to the mast if we are not to be tempted by sirens.

Sunday, October 15, 2017

On my tour of Hell...

I saw a man being continually beaten with a carpenter's hammer, blow after merciless blow.

"How can this be just?" I asked my guide.

"Well, for one thing, he is here because he beat his wife and two young children to death with a hammer... the medical examiner said 127 blows in all."

"I see... but still, blow after blow after blow... surely thousands since we've been watching. Won't the other guy ever stop?"

"What other guy?" my guide asked.

Saturday, October 14, 2017

Worst IT horror story ever?

I just heard about this from friend who encountered this himself this week:

About 10 years ago, Very Big Corporation implemented a Lotus Notes database to track employee requests for Service X from an outside vendor. (The story is already looking bad: how could someone 10 years ago not have known that Lotus Notes was a dead-end?) The "database" was used mostly for its form capabilities: by routing through Lotus Notes, apparently it was very easy to get a form up that forced data entry of the required fields in the proper formats.

Five years ago, Very Big Corporation decommissioned Lotus Notes and deployed at different mail and messaging service. Well, decommissioned Lotus Notes except for this one application. But since no one any longer has an active Notes login, now, five years after the decommissioning, my friend just spent three hours on the phone with technical support trying to get his login working again, so that he could make one very simple request to purchase a license for Service X for a new employee. Apparently, every time a new employee needs X, which is semi-often, the same problem comes up again, and it takes a similarly long time to solve each time it does.

And here is what will slay you: the Notes "database" is only being used as a queue: regularly, a living human being has to go into the database, and handle the most recent requests by calling up the vendor of Service X, and reading whoever answers the phone the required fields. Literally thousands of hours have been spent getting people logged in to a defunct application so they can make these requests...

When in about five minutes, any moderately competent web programmer could create a web page with those fields on it, validate them, and send a mail to serviceXrequests@verybigcorp.com with the request. The queue would just be that inbox, and the people who call vendor X could share the account.

Five minutes!

"There is only a 1 in a 1.5 billion chance..."

"of finding your soul mate."

"I think you're overthinking it." -- dialogue on BlueBloods

No, under-thinking it!

The idea that we meet other people in our lives purely by chance already assumes a random, meaningless universe. Of course, in such a universe "having a soul mate" is not just unlikely, it is impossible.

The idea of a soul mate assumes a meaningful universe where somehow some special, other person came into being just for us. That we would encounter them then would be designed into things.

Whichever of the above universes (if either) you believe in, if you begin to calculate the odds of randomly meeting your soul mate, your head is in a terrible jumble!

Friday, October 13, 2017

Why I get mad at you guys sometimes...

I really do have affection for all of my regular commenters.

And yes, my temper gets the best of me on occasion, but...

When I was 16, I scored a perfect 800 on the History Achievement Test. So at 16, I probably knew more history than most people do in their entire life.

Since then, I have read over a thousand more history books. I have plowed through about 30 or so of the Great Courses history series, each of which is equivalent to a full college course on its subject matter. I did a PhD thesis that was heavily historical, and was subsequently published as a book. I am a regular reviewer of books for three history journals: History Review of New Books, British Journal for the History of Philosophy, and Journal of the History of Economic Thought.

So please excuse my intemperate reaction, but when one of you "informs" me that Christianity spread in South America mainly through conquest...

Well, that leaves me a bit exasperated, OK?


It is a serious moral deficiency...

to have no greater sense of allegiance to people of one's own nation than to those of other nations:
The vice of deficiency is where fraternity comes in. Just as one can be excessively attached to one’s own family or nation, so too can one be insufficiently attached to them. This vice is exhibited by those who think it best to regard oneself as a “citizen of the world” or member of the “global community” rather than having any special allegiance to one’s own country. It is the idea of a “world without borders” and a “brotherhood of man” – hence fraternity construed as an ideal of universal brotherhood to replace family loyalty, patriotism, and other local allegiances.
To be sure, there is a sense in which all human beings are brethren; as I said above, we are all members of the human race and thus in that sense all members of the same maximally extended family. The problem comes when the idea of brotherhood is falsely taken to imply that there is something suspect about national or other group loyalties – when it is taken to imply that one’s countrymen are one’s brothers in no stronger sense than any other human being is.
The above is worth noting because of how often those lacking the virtue of patriotism try to depict those possessing it as morally suspect!

Distraction Deterrents in Small Contexts

"distracted from distraction by distraction" - T.S. Eliot I've been reading a little on how Facebook and other social netwo...