Home
Yesterday my post was about preserving your knees so you can enjoy your body for the long term. Several people expressed the opposite philosophy, that you should enjoy life now, even if it means more health problems later. I hear that same philosophy when I get into discussions about proper diet. But it seems to me that unless you are already taking heroin, you aren't being true to your own philosophy. You should be enjoying a good high now, not worried about what happens later.

I rarely make an important decision without considering the 60-year implication. My cash flow projections for retirement end at age 110. That's why the house we're building has an elevator.

I've always been this way. When I was in second grade I was already planning for my life as it is now, spending hours each day drawing comics. I assumed that would be my job. My focus changed by high school, to becoming a lawyer, so I buckled down and got good grades, figuring I'd need them. Things change, but I always have a plan.

The downside of planning so far ahead is that you worry more, and you probably enjoy today less. The upside is that your golden years might be a bit shinier. I'm not saying my approach is the best, but I don't think it's fair to call the "live for today" approach any kind of philosophy unless you're also quitting your job, having unprotected sex with strangers, and snorting coke. Junkies have a philosophy. You have rationalizations.
 
  • Print
  • Share
  • Share:
Yesterday I was chatting with a fellow in his thirties who was complaining about his knees. He's training for a big race, running several times a week, and that's a lot to ask of knees, especially if you're sporting a few extra pounds.

He's a smart guy, successful in his career, knows where he's going, with a lovely wife and kid. Apparently he sets high goals and is willing to push through the pain to achieve them. I admire that.

But I also wonder if he's made a good engineering choice for his body. As regular readers know, I see the human body as a moist robot. Happiness is a function of making sure the chemistry of your brain has the right mixture of raw materials. And to get there you need to make good engineering choices plus have a little luck.

As I see it, this fellow has chosen the one sport most likely to destroy his knees: running long distances on pavement. That's like building a skyscraper on a sand foundation. He runs a high risk of blowing out a knee or two, leading to less exercise, higher weight, health issues, and ultimately a suboptimal mixture of brain chemicals. I'll bet you can name three friends who have already taken that path.

By way of contrast, much of my life is designed to protect my knees. My preferred sport is tennis, so we're building a court at our future home that will have a relatively cushioned surface. It makes a big difference on knees, and it's the main reason we're building a home instead of buying one.

My other major exercise is indoor soccer on artificial turf, which is surprisingly easy on the knees unless I get a kick or a twist. The new artificial turfs are better engineered to avoid the injuries typical of the earlier versions. You can run all day on it and the knees feel great.

My non-sport cardio exercise involves a recumbent bike, which is ideal for knees. My doctor recommended it for that reason. Our new home will also have a pool, so I will add swimming to the mix. And I put a lot of effort into staying within my recommended weight range because experts say every pound on your buttocks feels like five to your knees.

You could argue (convincingly) that my choice of soccer isn't a good risk for my knees. But the over-30 league isn't that dangerous, relatively speaking, and I've dropped four pounds since the season started. Okay, okay, I agree that's a rationalization for "I like to play soccer." But you see the point. Be good to your knees or.

 
  • Print
  • Share
  • Share:
Companies merge every day. Maybe it's time for countries to do the same, voluntarily. For the sake of discussion, let's say the two countries are the United States and China.

Obviously there are too many obstacles, all psychological, to ever allow this to happen. But it makes me wonder what the benefits could be if it happened.

You could start the discussion by imagining that the U.S. and China would maintain their own leaders and laws much the way a state has a governor and its own local ordinances. The new unified Super Government would only deal with the big issues of global security, trade, and accelerating the benefits of leveraging the resources of both countries.

The Super Government would probably need to be made of equal members from the U.S. and China, and require a 75% majority for any decisions. That limits any actions to things clearly benefitting both groups.

The first obvious benefit to this arrangement is that you wouldn't point nukes at your own nation. Second, international trade negotiations would be easier. Few countries could afford to piss off both the U.S. and China. And I am assuming there could be substantial benefits to closer economic and environmental cooperation.

You could argue that the U.S. and China can already get those benefits by agreeing to any actions that are in their mutual interest. But there is something about being labeled the same country that makes agreement more likely. For example, I know that some states in the U.S. get a bigger piece of the federal spending pie, but I'm not bothered because somehow it's all in the family.

Maybe a U.S. and China merger allows for an elegant solution to the Taiwan situation. Toss Taiwan into the merger, giving them one or two representatives in the Super Government, and a veto over any decision directly affecting their people. On one hand it's effectively no change at all, while on the other hand the leaders of China could say they unified Taiwan with China. Ta-da!

You can find lots of reasons why a merger among very different nations wouldn't work. That's no challenge. The fun part is that this thought experiment demonstrates how much we sacrifice to the limitations of human psychology. When you define some other group as part of your own, everything changes while nothing changes.
 
  • Print
  • Share
  • Share:
I wonder if the right to freedom of speech is becoming functionally obsolete. If you break it into its parts and examine it, there isn't much to it anymore.

For example, as I have blogged before, if you criticize your government in any public way, it's bad for your business because all of the people who hold opposing viewpoints will prefer to take their money and job offers elsewhere. In most cases the threat of economic loss controls individuals from piping up too often. Every now and then you get a Joe the Plumber who can make some money off of speaking up, but it's rare.

There are plenty of professional pundits who will happily take sides on TV, radio, blogs, in newspapers, and in books. But most consumers of such opinions are true believers of one side or the other. Freedom of speech is somewhat useless if all it does is reinforce your existing viewpoints. And if all the media serves to do is give you a steady stream of biased information, it's functionally useless.

Assuming my enlightened readers are intellectual mavericks who sample the opinions from all sides, the Internet is making freedom of speech obsolete for you. And by that I mean there is no point in having a right allowing something that can't be stopped. It would be like banning gravity. For the true seeker of knowledge, the Internet allows one to find all variety of opinions, ranging from wisdom to fabrication. The law couldn't stop it if it tried.

Some countries censor their media and try to censor their Internet. I have to assume censoring the Internet can't work in the long run. There will be too many workarounds and too many criminals to prosecute. Those countries will learn that it is easier to control the information at the source than to control the media. As long as there are pundits willing to get paid for spreading the government's agenda there will be enough public doubt to keep revolution from happening. America leads by example in that department. (I can say that without repercussion because it isn't party-specific.)

Freedom of speech goes beyond criticizing the government. It also includes censorship of art deemed obscene. But in time the Internet will make that a meaningless right. Everyone will have instant access to any art or images they want.

This leaves us with the right to burn a flag or the right for special interest groups to donate money for campaigns. In 500 years no one but historians will remember that those rights sprang from the by-then-obsolete notion of freedom of speech.
 
  • Print
  • Share
  • Share:
Yesterday's blog about China was more fun than I expected. Just to be clear, I prefer the American system of government. But as regular readers know, I like to defend the opposite views from whatever I hold. It's a good test.

Many of you pointed out the problem of corruption in China. One source says it might amount to $86 billion per year, or 10 percent of government spending.

http://www.carnegieendowment.org/publications/index.cfm?fa=view&id=19628&prog=zch


Therefore the Democratic/Republic form of government is better than Chinese communism, right?

I would argue that corruption is independent of the form of government. Corruption is just as much a crime in China as it is in the U.S. The difference is the effectiveness of enforcement. If you look at America early in this century, corruption was rampant, probably on the level of China today, yet our system of government was the same as now.

Consider that our system of government took more than 200 years to beat corruption down to its current level. China's political system is relatively new and their country is relatively huge. The only relevant question is whether corruption in China is trending better or worse. And I don't know the answer to that. Do you?

You can't measure trends in corruption by dollar amount. If corruption stays at a constant rate, the dollar amount would be growing. So someone Google me up a good statistic on Chinese corruption trends.

 
  • Print
  • Share
  • Share:
China
Apr 9, 2009 | General Nonsense | Permalink
I don't understand a lot of things. Recently I realized I don't understand the Chinese form of government. This seems important because China will someday buy whatever is left of the United States. Any way you look at it, China is the major economic force of the future. I feel as if I should understand how they roll.

I suspect that if you quizzed most Americans, they would say China is a communist dictatorship. I had a hunch there was more to China than the cartoony image I learned in school. So I spent five minutes with Google to see what I could learn.

First of all, there are 1.3 billion Chinese, but only 73 million of them are members of the Communist Party. The party has a monopoly on power. They decide who gets to run for office. The Communists manage a vast bureaucracy that apparently has provisions for weeding out the idiots. I make that assumption based on the fact that the country functions at all, given its size and complexity. Check out this chart of the Chinese government.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Chinese_political_system.jpg


Although the Communists run the show, I assume most citizens have the right to join the party and work their way up the ranks. So merit appears to be important in their system. Obviously any big political system will have its share of corruption and favoritism. It's unclear to me if China is better or worse than the United States on those measures. But I imagine that getting caught with your hand in the public till in China means death. Here it means reelection. Advantage China.

Chinese citizens can vote for their local leaders, at least from the slate of candidates deemed appropriate by the party. And those local leaders in turn select higher level leaders, and so on. Is that less fair than the political systems in so-called democratic countries? Philosophically, it might be less fair. On a practical level, that's not so clear.

As far as I can tell (in five minutes) you don't get to be the head guy in China unless the Communist Party supports you. So it's far from a dictatorship. And the party has a huge incentive to pick the most effective leader. There's a lot to like about that system.

Unlike the political system in the United States, the Chinese don't base policy on superstition. They are more pragmatic. If you think God is talking to you, you probably don't go far in the Communist Party. Advantage China.

Obviously you have to include in this discussion the issues of human rights. China comes up short on that measure compared to western democracies. But what is less clear is whether the majority of Chinese would prefer it otherwise. Perhaps they appreciate the lower crime rate, for example.

If the Chinese had a more free press, would the citizens be better off? I appreciate the free press telling me that Governor Blagojevich tried to sell political influence. But in China he would already be executed, whether I read about it in the newspaper or not. Advantage China.

China's government is more like a large business enterprise. IBM doesn't have a free press reporting about its manager's decisions, but that doesn't make them less effective. They weed out the crooks and idiots in their ranks because it is in their best interest to do so. China's Communist Party apparently has a similar system. Would a free press make much difference in their case?

I started this discussion by admitting my ignorance. That situation hasn't changed much since I wrote this blog post. Feel free to correct any misconceptions here.

 
  • Print
  • Share
  • Share:
In the process of building our new home we came up with several ideas for how a modern home should be organized. Some ideas we used, some got cut for various reason. Here are some of the ideas.

GIFT WRAPPING SPACE: We imagined a small workbench space just off the garage that is designed for wrapping gifts. It's always someone's birthday, either friend or family. And you want it near the garage because most gifts enter, get wrapped then exit or move to storage. That space didn't make it into the final design.

HOME THEATER: Home theaters aren't new. What we did different is locate ours (seats 10) adjacent to the family room, across from the kitchen. That way it's integrated with the main entertainment area and near the food. The theater's double doors will have a large circular glass center so the space is visually connected to the family room. It's ideal for entertaining during the Superbowl, Oscars, Grammys, etc. because adjacent family room will have a smaller TV for the overflow crowd.

UNCONDITIONED FOYER: My pet peeve is huge foyers. A foyer just sits there looking pretty, sucking up your energy for heating and cooling. We built our foyer outside the conditioned space, within an entryway tower. When finished we hope it will have the same visual "pop" as an indoor foyer but without the energy suckiness.

CAT'S BATHROOM: We built a small space just off the laundry room for the cat's litter box. Most houses have pets, but few are designed for them. We fixed that.

PING PONG GARAGE SPACE: Relative to the cost of building a house, adding a few feet to the garage is cheap, and you don't need to heat or cool that space. In California, garage space is useful year round even unheated. So we included some extra space for a ping pong table. They're great for entertaining. Everyone plays ping pong.

TEMPORARY HOLDING SPACE: Every time a member of the family enters the house, something gets plopped on a table surface. It might be school projects, the mail, something from a store, a DVD, an iPod, you name it. Every flat surface becomes the temporary holding place for things that belong elsewhere. Our new home won't solve that problem, but I fantasize about a special room just off the garage that does nothing but hold all the crap that will later get sorted to appropriate storage places.

PROPER HOME OFFICE: When an office is designed in a home, it's usually the space just off the front door. I can't imagine a worse place for an office. A working office will generally be a bit messy, a tangle of cords, and not the first impression you want to leave guests. My office will be upstairs, on a corner, away from the action of the house, with a view. And the room will be largish. If you intend to work in a home office for ten hours a day, you don't want it to be a closet.

TOY JAIL: This is a closet on the first floor, near the stairway to the second floor, used for jailing any toys that the kids neglected to pick up and bring back to their rooms. The closet isn't locked. It's just a way for the adults to tuck the debris out of the way when they want things tidy in a hurry.

MOM'S COMPUTER COCKPIT: Our current townhouse is small and didn't have any extra rooms for the home computer. So the computer ended up in what should have been the living room, just off the main entry. This turned out to be accidentally brilliant because the computer is central to all the activity in the house and it gets used day and night. It is especially handy having it on the path to the garage because we always need to check e-mail or directions on the way out. Our new home has the computer cockpit just off the kitchen/family area, right next to the door to the garage.

NO MUSEUM ROOMS: Few things are a bigger waste of space than a formal living room. Our new home won't have one. That's the square footage that should be your home office, if you need one, or your home theater.

Another big waste of space is a formal dining room that is in its own area away from the action. Our dining room table will be integrated with the kitchen/family room area and casual in design, probably with bench seating. If the Queen wants to visit, we'll throw a tablecloth over it.

OUTDOOR LIVING: Relative to the cost of the house, it's inexpensive to include a large roofed patio, or lanai. In California you can use it most of the year. I expect it to be the most popular space in our home, and it costs the least. Depending on your insect situation, you might prefer a screened porch for the same reason.

NO HALLWAYS: We tried to design the home with as few hallways as possible. Hallways are a waste of space and energy. We designed our family room to be the connecting space for most of the downstairs rooms. We couldn't avoid all hallways, but we tried to make use of them for other functions where possible.

CHRISTMAS TREE CLOSET: It's a bother to crawl around in the attic every December to get the holiday decorations, only to be putting them away a month later. We designed a closet just off the family room that will hold all the holiday stuff, just yards from where most of it needs to be in December. As soon as I convince my wife that artificial trees are the way to go (a tough sale) I will be on easy street. Every year I'll have the tree up and decorated in about five minutes.

WIRING CLOSET: We have a closet where all the wiring will meet. It's located roughly in the center of the house and shares a wall with the home theater, housing that equipment as well. That will make life easier as technology evolves.

 
  • Print
  • Share
  • Share:
We recently acquired a minivan. Half of my readers just mentally snorted at the wretched direction my life has taken. You pity me.

The other half of you have actually been inside a modern minivan. You know that a minivan is the mullet of automobiles, and by that I mean it is all business in the front, and a party in the back. It's a little slice of heaven on wheels. I love my minivan. Yeah, I said it.

We were forced to consider minivans because our Toyota Highlander had an annoying noise that wouldn't go away. It sounded roughly like "Mom, there isn't enough leg room! Make someone else sit in the back next time!" We tried turning up the volume on the radio to drown it out, but that was only partly successful. So we started looking at minivans.

After extensive shopping we narrowed our minivan choices to either a Honda or a Toyota. The Honda had an edge in back seat comfort, mileage, and console layout. But the Toyota salesman assured us that after a few years of use the Honda would rattle apart and spontaneously dissemble itself in our garage. He said we would one day come out to the garage and find nothing but a pile of parts, each one trying to crawl away from the others. The Toyota, by way of contrast, was built tight, our salesman explained. It would survive a nuclear attack without the tires getting out of alignment. This was all suspiciously difficult to verify, given that it involved the future. And Google was silent on this issue. So we went with the comfy back seats. It seemed the quieter option.  

Our minivan is packed with so many features that it changes the entire driving paradigm. In the old model you had a driver and several passengers. Now you have a pilot and a full-time manager of tech support in the front, with several disgruntled users in the back. From the moment the humans enter the minivan, the manager of tech support gets busy. My wife, who I call Spock during family drives, is responsible for the navigation unit, synching the BlackBerry to the speaker system, adjusting the XM satellite stations, loading the DVD, instructing occupants about how to move seats, locking and unlocking doors, and so on. Her job is never done because the users never stop submitting change orders.

As pilot, I try to tune out everything but the sultry and sometimes scolding voice of the navigation unit. If I allow myself to get invested in the tangle of tech support and political issues bubbling over in the rest of the vehicle I will lose concentration and drive into a ravine. Although I'd be lying if I said it isn't a tempting option after the fifteenth change order gets submitted, just before I fire up the rear bumper video camera, and the distance sonar, and start backing out of the garage.

The XM satellite radio is a wonderful invention. It has an endless variety of music. But for reasons I haven't yet discerned, all we ever hear is Daughtry and Lady Gaga. I would be fine with this arrangement if Daughtry didn't sound like two mules dragging a barn door over crushed stones. I need to talk to Spock about that, but she is always buried in work orders.

My point is that minivans are wonderful. If you like Daughtry.
 
  • Print
  • Share
  • Share:
I've blogged about my theory that you can appear to be an expert, at least to non-experts, on any topic for which you know the twelve basic concepts. Someone suggested I write a book with lots of topics and their twelve concepts. I like that idea except you would need about a hundred topics to make it work. I could only come up with 25 topics. What other subjects would you want to know at twelve concepts about? Or to put it another way, what topics do you wish OTHER people understood better?

Investing

Humor

Presentations

Design

Business Writing

Entrepreneurship

Creativity

Job Interview

Exercise

Social Interaction

Education

Diet

Sex

Media

Human Nature

Physics

Aging

Learning

Cooking

Travel

Buying a car

Health

Success

Energy conservation

Building your own home

 
  • Print
  • Share
  • Share:
In my corporate days I shared a cubicle wall with a guy from marketing. He would wander in a few hours after I started work, say his hellos, and occasionally try to recruit me for some sort of pyramid scheme involving artificial gems. After he made his presence known in the office, he would take some documents in his arms and head down the hallway, down the stairs, through the lobby, across the parking lot, into his car, and all the way home. He lived near work, and he'd stay home all day under the cover story of being in meetings.

A few years later I learned that he went on a drinking and drug binge, got in a fight with a buddy in a hotel room, and strangled the fellow with his belt. My coworker went to prison and wrote a book about his experience. It was a good book. He alleged that the victim was a big guy and it wasn't easy to kill him. The relatives of the victim allege that the deceased was about the size of a lawn jockey. I don't know the truth, but I do know that my coworker had a background in marketing not karate.

So who was your worst coworker?
 
  • Print
  • Share
  • Share:
 
 
Showing 801-810 of total 1018 entries
 
Get the new Dilbert app!
Old Dilbert Blog