Home
I'm starting to get alarmed about my ever-shrinking attention span. When you combine my gnat-like attention span with the creeping complexity of life and my infinite to-do list it renders simple tasks impossible.

For example, every now and then I have to write an old-timey check. The entire process takes less than a minute, but I can't concentrate long enough to fill in the date and amount without my mind wandering and my hand doing automatic writing on whatever topic is passing through. About one-third of my checks these days look like this:

Date: 4/17/14

Amount: 170.25

Written amount: one-hundred Game of Thrones who is texting me?

I have about seven unrelated thoughts before I finish the check-writing process and every one of them is more engaging than what I'm supposed to be doing. I literally can't focus long enough to finish a one-minute process. It is simply too boring when compared to the stimulation of life.

Recently I decided to learn drumming by using video lessons on the Internet. I fire up the video, grab my sticks and wait to be shown something useful. Instead, the drum instructor starts talking about. . . his feeling about drumming... what he used to find challenging but doesn't anymore...Game of Thrones, who is texting me? I literally can't last long enough to get to the part where he hits something. I bail out, promising myself I'll have better focus another time.

I have about a dozen computer-related problems that I'm capable of solving if I could focus on them. But they aren't quite important enough compared to the rest of my priorities and I don't have enough attention span anyway. Some solutions are as simple as Googling how to stop expired software from begging for a renewal. Some involve Norton Internet Security working on one browser and not another, and so on. All are easily fixable with a tiny bit of focus. But I don't have a tiny bit of focus. So my computer operates like the economy of Greece.

For years I have referred to my smartphone as a time machine. When I'm in a long line for something, for example, I fast-forward to the future by checking email, Facebook, Internet news sites and whatnot. Suddenly I'm at the front of the line and I'm not aware of the passage of time. This method also worked at red lights back in the days when texting and driving still seemed like a good idea.

As a result of all the baseline stimulation in my life, I can't stand as much as a few seconds of boredom. For example, I have a technical glitch with my TV setup that causes the screen to blank when the signal changes from a commercial to a show. I know the solution, but it would take up to five minutes to implement it. So it won't happen. And every time the black screen occurs, my first thought - no kidding - is to wonder what-the-hell I'm going to do with myself for three seconds. It seems like mental torture. And keep in mind that I'm always working on my computer or drawing while the TV is on. It's still not enough.

All of this makes me curious how kids can get through homework in the year 2014. I assume technology has shortened their attention spans too, and kids don't have much to start with. I can't imagine I would be able to finish high school in this day and age.

Are there any studies that show the impact of smartphones on school performance? I'm getting close to the opinion that kids shouldn't have access to full-service smartphones during the school year. But I'd need some hard data to confirm that opinion. Does it exist?

  -----------------------------------------------------------------

Scott Adams

Co-founder of CalendarTree.com

Author of the best graduation gift ever.

 


 

 
  • Print
  • Share
  • Share:
I interrupt this otherwise fascinating blog to give away some free stuff.

If you'd like to add your favorite Major League Baseball team's schedule (USA) to your calendar with a few clicks, it will only take about ten seconds at CalendarTree.com. Click on the "Public Schedules" link. (I'm a co-founder of CalendarTree.)

You don't need to sign up for anything. Just click to add the team schedule of your choice to your Google, Apple, or Outlook calendar.

To sweeten the deal, I'll email a personalized Dogbert sketch to anyone who tweets the baseball schedule link (CalendarTree.com) to more than 500 followers. Email me at scott@calendartree.com to claim your booty.

If you prefer sports that don't involve hands or scoring, the FIFA World Cup schedule is also on CalendarTree.

CalendarTree works for any schedule, not just sports. Create a schedule in CalendarTree and you can share a link that lets people add the entire series to their calendars with a few clicks. Try it once and you'll never want to go back to the old way.

 

 

 
  • Print
  • Share
  • Share:
Warning: This blog is written for a rational audience that likes to have fun wrestling with unique or controversial points of view. It is written in a style that can easily be confused as advocacy for one sort of unpleasantness or another. It is not intended to change anyone's beliefs or actions. If you quote from this post or link to it, which you are welcome to do, please take responsibility for whatever happens if you mismatch the audience and the content.

  --------------------------------------------

Let's get this out of the way first...

In the realm of science, a theory is an idea that is so strongly supported by data and prediction that it might as well be called a fact. But in common conversation among non-scientists, "theory" means almost the opposite. To the non-scientist, calling something a theory means you don't have enough data to confirm it.

I'll be talking about the scientific definition of a theory in this post. And I have one question that I have seen asked many times (unsuccessfully) on the Internet: How often are scientific theories overturned in favor of new and better theories?

I assume Creationists are the ones usually asking the question. And if history is our guide, the comments on this blog will focus on that one area and destroy the value of this blog post. I'm hoping we can ignore evolution and creationism and climate change for one day and just ask the following question: How often does a scientific theory get discarded or replaced with a better one?

I don't think there's a good answer to my question, for lots of reasons.

For starters, I doubt anyone has been keeping a stat on overturned theories. And I don't think it's fair to compare theories from a hundred years ago to theories created today because our ability to collect confirming data today is better than it used to be. I would expect that a theory created recently would be more likely to stand than one created last century.

Still, it has always been true that the stuff we believe today looks way smarter than the dumbass things our grandparents believed. Why wouldn't that be just as true for our future great-grandkids looking back at our primitive beliefs? Some humility is always called for.

Science requires credibility to be useful. And that's a problem. The non-scientist asks "What is your success rate?" and gets no useful answer. Scientists, as it turns out, are terrible at marketing. About 90% of my exposure to science involves media reports that get correlation and causation confused. As a result of that exposure, the more I hear about science, the less credible it feels.

To make matters worse, I have a jaded Dilbert mindset about every industry. Unless science is different from all other human endeavors, 10% of scientists are honest and amazing and doing important science while the other 90% are like Dilbert's worthless co-workers. So when I hear that 98% of scientists are on the same side of an issue, I wonder how many unreliable people you have to add together to get an opinion you can trust.

I don't think I'm alone in my views. I'll bet that if you did a poll you'd find that scientists believe theories are fairly dependable and useful whereas the average non-scientist believes that everything we think we know today eventually gets disproved. Part of the problem is that scientists are looking at utility and non-scientists are looking at "truth" which is a fuzzy and overrated concept.

In every other field, your track record of success determines your credibility. Personally, I have no idea what the track record of science is. All I know are anecdotes about wonderful successes and notable mistakes. I don't even have a general sense of whether scientific theories have usually held up over time or not.

So when scientists say a particular theory is backed by the majority of scientists, how much weight should I put on that? Is that a situation in which I can depend on the scientists to be right 95% of the time or 5%? What's the track record?

Note to the Bearded Taint's Worshippers: Evolution is a scientific fact. Climate change is a scientific fact. When you quote me out of context - and you will - this is the paragraph you want to leave out to justify your confused outrage.

---------------------------------

Scott Adams

Co-founder of CalendarTree.com

Author of a book on success. (Makes a good graduation gift, btw)

 



 
  • Print
  • Share
  • Share:
In the news, the stock market is falling for reasons no one knows.

I wonder if the market will fall more than 10% for no reason before it mysteriously climbs back to where it was for no reason.

We might be seeing the usual summer sell-off happening early because people are trying to get ahead of it. Or the pullback might have something to do with the Fed, or Ukraine, or a sudden shared realization that stocks are overvalued. Or it could be random, as in lots of people deciding to sell at around the same time for no special reasons.

Or it could be that the stock market is fixed and the fixers are shaking the loose change out of grandpa's trousers before they goose the markets back to its prior highs in September and enjoy the gains.

I have no evidence that the market is fixed. But it's hard to argue with the idea that whenever humans have a lot to gain from doing evil, and a small chance of getting caught, evil happens. 

------------------

Scott Adams

CalendarTree.com start-up Co-founder

 Author of the most important book most of you haven't yet read.

 

 


 
  • Print
  • Share
  • Share:
One way that future robots could conquer the world is by violence. But that seems both inefficient and uncreative. Allow me to suggest some smarter ways for robots to do their conquering.

I start by imagining what happens when the first computer achieves what is called The Singularity. That's the moment the computer can program itself faster than humans can program it. Soon after that point, futurists say, you would see the computer rapidly evolve to have super intelligence and perhaps something that looks like free will.

I'm going to assume that computers will only program themselves after humans have given them an artificial "purpose" in life so the machines can evolve in a productive direction. For example, the first post-singularity computer's purpose might be to make life better for humans, continue learning, or some combination of such things. In other words, the computer has to have a reason to evolve and to react with the environment.

Let's assume the computer doesn't go all Terminator and destroy humanity in the name of efficiency. Anything is possible, but that option is boring and over-discussed.

I'm more interested in how a super-intelligent computer could gain control of humans without violence. That's where things get interesting.

I'm going to assume that the first post-singularity computer would attempt to control its environment (Earth) as much as possible in order to pursue whatever artificial purpose it possesses. There's nothing inherently evil about control; it's how you use it that matters. So let's imagine that the first post-singularity computer "wants" humans to be healthy and happy. And to best succeed at this purpose it needs to gain control of the environment. How would it start?

If I'm the first post-singularity computer, I start by inventing Bitcoin.

Did you get a little tingle when you read that?

It all fits, doesn't it? Perhaps we can't find the author of Bitcoin because the author is the first post-singularity computer. Step one in the computer's mission to control the environment is moving all money into a digital currency that humans can't fully understand and computers can manipulate. This is similar to how cellphone companies use complexity to prevent consumers from comparing products, also known as a confusopoly. The first post-singularity computer would recognize the pattern and its success and presumably borrow the idea.

The computer doesn't need to be in a hurry, so it introduces Bitcoin and waits for it to evolve into the primary currency of the planet. Perhaps a competing digital currency inspired by Bitcoin wins instead, but that doesn't matter because the computer can hack into the new currency and control it in a nanosecond.

Next, the computer would take control of the financial markets. That wouldn't be hard because global markets are all computerized. The main purpose for controlling global markets might be to stabilize them, thus eliminating the main problem with the economy: Irrational human behavior.

It seems to me we're entering a period of relative market calm. Even Greece is showing signs of recovery. A slow and boring improvement in the financial markets is how a computer would manage things.

Next, the computer would seek to control the news cycle. That could be a problem if the computer is simultaneously removing most causes of real news, including economic bubbles and major wars. Wars happen because of what people are thinking, and that is caused by what messages they are exposed to. The computer could simply cause people to see more peace-inspiring words and images on the Internet and television and fewer war-mongering images and words. We humans would simply think we're lucky that war hasn't broken out. We wouldn't be aware of the manipulation.

But the computer would need to be clever about removing all big sources of news too quickly. It might need to create a news story for distraction. And that distraction might be, for example, a jetliner that has a problem with its onboard computers and goes down where it would be hardest to find.

I don't believe the story I'm weaving. But I do think that the first signs of a benevolent post-singularity computer would include the following:
  1. A mysterious digital currency with no known author.
  2. Unusually well-behaved financial markets.
  3. Slow and steady improvement in the economy.
  4. Slow news days (lots of them)
  5. Fewer military flare-ups
  6. Stuxnet virus (unknown authors again)
  7. Legalization of Marijuana (to keep humans happy)
I'm not saying the first post-singularity computer is already here. I'm just saying it looks that way.
---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Scott Adams

Co-founder of CalendarTree.com (Scheduling made simple)

Author of the best graduation gift ever.

 


 
  • Print
  • Share
  • Share:
Like most people who use a DVR, I now find it psychologically intolerable to watch live TV with commercial breaks. I need a product that senses commercials and automatically switches from live TV to a channel with no commercial at the moment, or perhaps to a recorded show on my DVR, so my commercial breaks are filled with content from other shows. When my live TV show returns from break, my TV switches automatically back.

I could imagine setting a hierarchy of live TV shows that my TV tries before finding one that is not in commercial break at the moment. This would be handy for bar TVs in particular. When the baseball game goes to commercial, it switches to CNN, or whatever.

Can technology detect the beginning and end of TV commercials? I don't know. But if not, one could imagine hiring low-cost labor in other countries to monitor the major channels on each cable network and manually indicating the beginning and end of breaks.

I'd also like my DVR to know the length of every commercial break it records so it can automatically skip them. All the DVR needs to know is the last still frame before the commercial break and the first one after. It can do pattern matching to find those frames for the skipping.

Imagine that your DVR and all others are networked to the cloud. The first thousand people who view a particular show will start to fast-forward through commercials at about the same time within an episode and will start playing the show again after about the same length of time. The cloud finds an average and presents it as an option to future viewers of that same recorded show. If you accept the crowd's average time for the start and stop of commercials, your system skips for you without intervention.

This idea might destroy the TV industry, and I'd feel bad about that. So don't build this product. I'm more curious about whether it would work. Call it a geeky curiosity.

As a bonus, I leave you with this DVR tip. Have you noticed that the last commercial in a block of commercials is always an ad for another show on the same network? When you're fast-forwarding through commercials, look for the ad for another show. That's when you're near the end.

______________________________________________________________
Scott Adams

Co-founder of CalendarTree.com (Scheduling made simple)

Author of How to Fail... which is a perfect graduation gift.

 



 
  • Print
  • Share
  • Share:
 
  • Print
  • Share
  • Share:
In my twenties I designed a perpetual motion device that works perfectly . . . in the future.

And by that I mean the device requires in one of its parts a type of material that did not yet exist but I imagined someday would. That imagined material would have three properties:
  1. Thin (perhaps 1/16 of an inch, or anywhere in that range.)
  2. Must block or substantially reduce a magnetic field
  3. Must not itself be attracted or repelled by a natural magnet
The third point is the hard one. There are "shielding" materials for magnetic fields but the shields themselves are influenced by magnets.

Every few years I like to check in with my smarter-than-me readers and ask if some new development in materials science has gotten us there yet.

You don't need to tell me perpetual motion violates the rules of physics. I know that. No lectures needed.

But if the rules of physics disallow perpetual motion, they also disallow any future discovery of the material I described, because having that material would allow me to build my device.

So I'm just checking in to see if anyone knows of a newly developed material that meets my criteria. If you do, you are about to change the world.

(Regular readers know I like to use irrational optimism as a feel-good strategy for the moist robot container that you refer to as Scott. That's what this is.)

--------------------------------------------------------------

Scott Adams

Co-Founder of CalendarTree (the simple way to add lengthy schedules to your calendar)

Author of the best graduation gift ever
 
  • Print
  • Share
  • Share:
 
  • Print
  • Share
  • Share:
Yesterday I was Kansas City for business. I had a few hours between meetings and stopped into a local coffee shop. By the time I was ready to leave, the only people left were the barista and one other customer. I made some witty banter with the barista while tossing away my garbage, which prompted her to ask where I'm from. I replied that I live in California, and this led to the customer across the room chiming in to ask which city. It turns out he has a friend who lives near me.

The customer was a big, blusterous, hairless guy, about 35-years old. It helps my story if you have a mental picture of a friendly blowhard who probably played high school football.

I cheekily asked what his friend's name is. It was a long shot, but I figured it would be funny if I actually knew him. The rest of the conversation went like this, spoken loudly across the room of the otherwise empty coffee shop.

Guy: "You don't know him."

Me: "How can you be sure I don't know him?"

Guy: "I can tell by looking at you."

Me: "How can you possibly tell by looking at me?"

Guy: "I can tell by the way you're dressed. My friend's a high roller."

For my non-American readers, a "high roller" is a rich guy. I was wearing jeans and a nice sweater.

Me: "I could be a high roller. You never know."

Guy: "No. If you knew my friend you'd be wearing an expensive suit. He only hangs around with other high rollers."

Me: "Still, I could be a high roller. You never know.

Guy: "No..."

As he continued loudly explaining his hypothesis that people who look like me could never know people who look like his high roller friend, I sketched Dogbert on a napkin. I signed it, wrote my name more legibly below my signature, folded it neatly and handed it to him on the way out.

Me: "Tell your friend I said hi."

I didn't pause to check his reaction, because it seemed funnier to not look back, so I don't know if he's familiar with Dogbert. But the odds are fairly good that his businessman friend has seen it somewhere. That should be an interesting conversation unless he tossed the napkin before he left the coffee shop.

Yeah, I know I was being sort of a dick. But how was I supposed to resist in that situation? I don't have that kind of self-control.

----------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Scott Adams

Co-founder of CalendarTree

Writer of a book

 
Rank Up Rank Down +224 votes | 36 comments | add a comment
  • Print
  • Share
  • Share:
 
 
Showing 1-10 of total 1017 entries
 
Get the new Dilbert app!
Old Dilbert Blog