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Archive for November, 2012

Tonight, I played badminton for the first time in two years. I was apprehensive for two reasons:

  1. I was pretty sure I was going to suck.
  2. I wasn’t sure how my hip was going to hold up.

Regarding #2, my hip didn’t hold up that well. It didn’t bother me much, but moving it around was very sore. Clearly, I have regressed over the past two years in spite of all my treatment (surgery, massage, exercise). All the movement in badminton stresses it in ways that hiking does not. However, this means that I need to exercise it in order to strengthen it, and what better way than badminton?

Regarding #1, I was right – I did suck. However, tonight (and for the next three weeks), I took and signed up for lessons. And man, I learned stuff. For one thing, I learned that my technique has been wrong since the beginning. Sheesh! From Day 1 my grip was wrong! Not only that, my footwork was wrong and my hitting technique was wrong. No wonder everyone at the Pro-Club used to destroy me.

Finally, it was hard work! There were times when I was tired, and I’m pretty sure my right arm and right leg will be sore tomorrow.

Luckily, I can improve. I learned a lot of new things tonight, and perhaps I will eventually pull out my first ever victory in the greater Seattle area playing badminton!

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I went to Wordle and created a Word Cloud for this blog. I think it only pulled the most recent blog posts. The result is below.

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Pretty cool.

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A topic that I’ve recently stumbled across is Behavioral Economics. This is the study of why people act irrationally when it comes to making financial decisions.

Let me give you an example. Answer this question quickly based upon your initial impulse. What would you rather have:

  1. $100 in one year, OR
  2. $101 in one year and one day from now

Think it over and answer before you move on.

Next, answer the following question. What would you rather have:

  1. $100 today, OR
  2. $101 tomorrow

Think it over before you move on.

If you’re like most people, you’d take $101 in one year and one day (option 2 in the first question). You’d be willing to wait the extra one day for the extra dollar when the impact is so far off in the future. However, if you’re also like most people, you’d prefer to have the $100 today instead of waiting the extra day for a single dollar (option 1 in the second question).

This doesn’t make sense.

In both cases, you’re waiting only one more day. Theoretically, the amount of people switching or choosing should be the same since it makes no difference. But most people don’t want to wait an extra for that $100 when the time frame is so short. They want their money now instead of in the future.

It’s irrational. But it is what it is. And Behavioral Economics tries to study this phenomenon.

Conventional economics states that when it comes to doing almost anything, even with money, people are rational. If they can get the same goods elsewhere, they drift to the one with the lowest price. If something makes sense, then over the long run people will do the thing that makes sense.

This is the basis of capitalism; if you make a better product, or do it for cheaper, people will abandon the existing source of where they get stuff and move to the better stuff. People get a better product, and the person producing the better stuff gets paid.

But Behavioral Economics says that people don’t always do this. People sometimes act irrationally. During the housing bubble, people would buy and sell homes and flip them to the next buyer in anticipation of making a quick profit. And more and more people entered the market, doing this. House prices were no longer irrational (my little experiment above proved that even you can be irrational). This is what happens with bubbles.

Why do people do this?

Without doing much research into Behavioral Economics, I’ve looked into the topic before about how people make decisions. Briefly:

  1. Emotions can color judgment

    People can act in ways contrary to their own best interests if their emotions interfere with decision making. However, at low levels of intensity, emotions only act in an advisor role. To get them to interfere, stronger levels of emotion are required.

  2. Probability

    As humans, we judge things based upon the impact of if something occurs, rather than the probability of it occurring. For example, people are more afraid of dying in an airplane crash than in a car crash even though airplanes are far more safe. But the reason they are more afraid is because your chances of surviving an airplane crash are basically zero, whereas you have a fighting chance in a car.

  3. Control

    The fact that we can control or influence an outcome alleviates the negative feelings we experience.

  4. Time

    The closer a deadline is, the more this influences us to take action (this explains the money decision above).

  5. External factors

    There are four stimuli that humans are susceptible to experiencing interfering emotions: Money, Food, Sex and Revenge. They prevent us from thinking clearly.

    In my experiment above, it involved Money and Time, a double-whammy. You just weren’t thinking clearly when you picked the $100 today.

Knowing this, the financial markets are not rational. People are not rational. We fear a loss twice a much as we desire a gain (if not more). That’s why we rush into investments – we fear we are losing out on the easy money.

I think it’s a pretty cool subject. It explains why I invested in rental property.

And why I lost big time money.

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Update on the cat

Currently as I type this, I am sitting on the couch and our cat, Ruby, is laying down against my lap.

No, wait, she just moved. Now she’s laying between the keyboard and my body.

Out of all the cats I’ve ever had, Ruby is by far the messiest. For one thing, she has a sensitive stomach. There’s only one kind of food she eats (the expensive kind) and if we try to give her canned food, or she eats a ribbon that she normally plays with, or she runs around after eating, she throws up.

That’s pretty gross.

I’ve had cats throw up before, but not at the rate that Ruby does.

The other messy thing she does is with the litter box. We bought a box to put the litter box in so you can’t see it. It looks kind of like the following:

The problem is that the litter box fits almost perfectly well inside the cabinet. Why is that a problem, you ask? Sometimes Ruby goes in there and goes to the bathroom but she doesn’t “fit in” all the way. She turns around and turns around and if she’s facing towards the back of the box (meaning that her posterior is facing towards the entrance) and her aim is off, she can make a mess outside the box.

It’s gross. Bad Ruby!

I can’t remember having a cat that ever did similar things. She’s kind of clumsy that way. The wife says it’s because I’ve never had indoor cats; since the others were outdoor we never spotted their messiness. I don’t think that’s the case because our other cats did spend more than their fair share of time indoors in the winter.

However, she’s a friendly cat. She likes to sleep by her owners. If we get up and go to another room for any length of time, she goes to the door and starts meowing. She’s saying “Where is everyone?”

Sometimes she acts just like a dog.

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When it comes to dealing with our new cat, the wife and I have some very clear differences. The most glaring is when the cat is misbehaving herself. Rather than describe it in words, let me give you an example:

Me: Ruby, what are you doing? <I walk over to the table, pick her up and drop her off because she’s not supposed to be there>

Compare this to the wife:

The wife: Ruby? Ruby, NO! <pause two seconds> Ruby… AHHHHHHHH!

That’s pretty much how things go.

 

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Every once in a while, I read some article or some excerpt on a friend’s Facebook page taking pot shots at young earth creationists. This is usually in reference to a politician (usually a Republican) taking a stand on the topic, and how having this type of person in office is “dangerous.”

Growing up, I was heavily exposed to the young earth creationist idea that the earth is only 6000 years old or so. It was taught in seminars and books and it’s something I believed in. However, in school and the textbooks, we were taught that the earth is billions of years old. I was never able to reconcile these two beliefs, but on the tests I quoted what they wanted to hear.

As time passed, I lost interest in the creationist/evolutionist debate. However, eventually I abandoned the young earth position as I started reading more and more about the science behind it. As it turns out, the overwhelming evidence falls on the side of a planet that is billions of years old and a universe that is even older. Astronomy, geology, paleontology and anthropology all confirm it.

Reading about human development is really interesting when you understand that humanity has taken a very complex biological journey to get where we are today, and an equally complex migratory journey to populate the earth.

Just for fun, I decided to check out the Answers in Genesis web page. This is a web page that is dedicated to defending young earth creationism. The website is very consistent, although I disagree with most of what they have published. In my view, their faith in a literal six day creation according to the first two chapters in Genesis colors their interpretation of science. Because they interpret these chapters literally, they discount the evidence that says that the earth is old and accept evidence that says it is young. I believe that this is clear evidence of their Confirmation Bias.

One article I checked out is entitled The Australian Aboriginal. This is something I have a minor degree of expertise in after having read Jared Diamond’s book Guns, Germs and Steel which theorizes about reasons for the divisions of wealth between nations.

Answers in Genesis addresses the question of the Australian Aboriginal and why they were so far “behind” when they were discovered by European settlers several hundred years ago. Here are some excerpts from the article:

When Captain Cook arrived in Australia some 200 years ago, he encountered a dark-skinned race of nomadic people with a stone age culture. Evolutionists say these Aborigines came to Australia at least 40,000 years ago from unknown origins. The evolutionary view which is taught in schools and promoted in the media is really saying these were a people who hadn’t evolved as fast as other types of man.

This isn’t correct. From the picture above, you can see that humans migrated out of Africa and crossed down through southeast Asia about 40,000 years ago. We know their origins. We also know that modern humans are the same as the ones that migrated out of Africa 50,000 to 200,000 years ago. It is incorrect to say that they haven’t evolved as fast as us because they are like us.

The question is why was their society so primitive compared to European society? Answers in Genesis talks about how since the Noahic Flood, everyone on earth had the same ancestors (eight people) and followed the same God, and therefore had the same technology. Thus, as recently as 4000 years ago, we were all on equal footing. They put it this way:

Their ancestor Noah had the knowledge of the true God. He also had ship building technology, farming ability, knew how to work alloys, etc. Remnants of this true knowledge of God, of creation and of Noah, can still be seen in their mythology, e.g. they have many legends of a world wide flood.

All of which means that somewhere in their history, this knowledge has been forgotten, lost, or deliberately discarded. The culture Captain Cook discovered was spiritist. They did not have the knowledge of the true God and only had a “stone age” culture.

So what happened?

Someone, somewhere in their history, has turned away from the true God, devised their own religion and successfully persuaded their fellow Aborigines to accept it. They have suffered the consequences of this. Instead of being a culture regenerated by God’s standards, they have degenerated from them.

Societies get this way, because they turn their back on God and degenerate away from His standards. They no longer have a respect for the life of man made in the image of God, because they no longer respect God.

Thus, by turning away from God, the aboriginal culture “degenerated” and what happened is an example of when human societies turn to to their own ways. They go “backwards.” In other words, it’s their own fault. They had technology but lost it.

Anthropologists and biologists look at this much differently. In my view, the reason why AiG makes statements like this is because they are forced into it because of their views. They only have 3700 years to explain how the aboriginals went so far backwards compared to Europeans. Of course they are so primitive! Without God to supernaturally guide or enlighten them, that’s what happens!

But it isn’t nearly this simple.

There are plenty of cultures that were not Christian or Jewish that built very advanced societies: the Mayans in Mesoamerica, the Khmers in southeast Asia, and the Incas in South America. They were isolated from the West and they had very advanced cultures before they collapsed. A dearth of spirituality does not explain why a society does not advance because obviously it doesn’t happen everywhere. Some cultures, like the Chinese, advanced further than Europe but they did not have the same, or even similar, religious beliefs.

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So what happened to the Aboriginals?

50,000 years ago, all human societies were the same. There was no region that was further ahead than the other in any part of the world. The reason why some societies advance further than others is due to a combination of multiple factors:

  1. The best land

    Regions of the world with the best agricultural land make it easier to grow crops for subsistence farming. If you’re not spending all of your time hunting and gathering, you can settle down and produce a food surplus. This means that instead of 100% of your population devoted to gathering food, you have a surplus of people who can spend time building an army, or inventing things like technology.

    Australia is a very difficult country to live in. Most of the land is not arable. Crops do not grow natively there (there are only five places in the world where agriculture arose spontaneously: the fertile crescent in modern Mesopotamia, New Guinea, China, Mesoamerica and the modern northeastern US; everywhere else it was introduced). Not only did the Aboriginal people not have agriculture at the time they landed in Australia (that wouldn’t be invented anywhere for another 30,000 years), it was never introduced to them.

    This means that they lived in a harsh climate where they spent most of their resources just trying to survive. They didn’t have time to invent things. They only had rudimentary tools.

    By contrast, the Europeans lived in a part of the world with good climate and good land. It rains a lot there. The soil is productive. It’s easy to grow things. That’s two distinct advantages the aboriginals did not have.

  2. The best animals

    Another reason that the Europeans advanced is because they were able to harness animal power. When growing crops, it’s easier to tether a yoke to an ox and have them do it than it is to pull it yourself. It’s easier to advance on an army of horses than it is field an army of only foot soldiers.

    There are only fourteen mammals over 100 lbs that have ever been domesticated by humans (horses, cows, pigs, ox, llamas, and nine others). Of these, 13 are native to Europe.

    What? Only 13?

    Yes, only 13. We typically think of Africa as the continent of large mammals. But zebras, hippos and rhinos have never been domesticated. Lions and tigers are carnivorous and are not suitable for domestication, not because of their temperament but because they need too much meat. It takes 10x as much meat to sustain a lion as what it weighs. They are too inefficient.

    Europe had 13 large land mammals. South America had 1 (the llama). Every other continent, including Australia, had none.

    Because they were able to harness animals for agriculture, Europeans could produce food surpluses to support a class of kings and military. They also harnessed animals for military to build superior forces to other continents.

    Australia had neither. The humans who invaded the land 40,000 years ago either hunted the suitable mammals to extinction, or the rest of them (kangaroos) they never domesticated.

Because they had no animals and poor land unsuitable for agriculture, the Australian aboriginals never moved beyond the hunting-and-gathering stage. Societies composed of hunters-and-gatherers never generate large populations. The land doesn’t support it. It’s estimated that there were only 300,000 aboriginals who inhabited Australia when Captain Cook landed in the 18th century.

Thus, the reason why Europe advanced is because of… luck. The reason why Australia didn’t advance is because of bad luck. The native Europeans were able to grow food easily and use animals to grow it faster. People could spend time developing society. Inventions arose. Society advanced.

This created a multiplication factor – when you get a little bit of head with better tools, you can use those tools to get ahead a little bit more. This gives you a double advantage over those who have neither. But then your better tools give you an even bigger advantage because you can use them to make even better ones!

The aboriginal people didn’t lose anything (knowledge of science and technology), they never advanced to it. To say that theirs is an example of what happens when a society turns to spiritism or lacks God is unfair because it doesn’t compare apples-to-apples. One society had a set of advantages that contributed to its development that the other lacked. Had they both had the same set of conditions, that would be fair. Or what if it were the other way around? What then?

Compare this to the Answers in Genesis version – societies had technology but lost it, whereas Jared Diamond’s version is that everyone started off on an equal footing (of having nothing) but some moved ahead much quicker. There was nothing to lose.

This model fits much better with the available evidence than the one proposed by Answers in Genesis.

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[I wonder if this would drive Shaun Warkentin crazy?]

Here at Microsoft, on my way out of the office to go home, there is a 4-way stop. One direction, north/south, is a long road while the other direction, east/west, is not. One leads into a parking lot of a Microsoft building while another leads into the entry way of another building – not quite a parking lot but not a road, either.

All directions except the one coming right out of the parking lot have three lanes – one for going straight in either direction, and then one turning lane to turn left. This makes it easier for traffic to go since there are more lanes.

However, I’ve discovered that Microsoft drivers here routinely ignore the traffic rules. When you come to a four-way stop, the person who gets there first gets to go first. Everyone has to wait, and then you go in a first-come, first-served order. This means if you get there third, you need to wait.

That never happens.

I can’t count the number of times I’ve arrived at the intersection and there was a car to my right. The car to my right gets there first and decides to make a left turn. This means that he drives into the intersection and crosses in front of me. It’s a decent sized intersection so I have to wait. The car behind him waits until he starts turning (since he has nowhere else to go) but before the turning car has cleared me, he goes. In other words, car to my right goes. Then the next car to my right goes before I do.

Since he’s going straight, I have to wait for him, too.

However, according to traffic rules, he is supposed to wait for me to go. The reason he doesn’t is because it takes a long time to clear the intersection and he can’t be bothered for the car to clear me, and then for me to go. He just wants to go.

The result is that I have to wait for another car to pass in front of me even though it was supposed to be the opposite.

I watch this happen all the time at Microsoft. Sure, I can see why you would do it, and it’s technically a small violation, but I only ever see this cheating at this intersection at Microsoft. I don’t see it happen on the actual road.

We may be able to develop software but we can’t wait a few extra seconds to get on our ways.

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