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Thursday, October 28, 2010

Learned Helplessness

I'm just now getting to write about something I experienced a few weeks ago that caught my attention.

It was something about ME that startled me and made me realize exactly how significant simple, tiny, insignificant, helpful technologies are teaching us to be helpless.

We all use technologies that make our lives easier and simpler. Sometimes those technologies are the phonebooks in our cellphones. Sometimes they're the automatic door openers at the grocery store. Sometimes they're the automatic transmission in our car or the auto-dimmer or the intermittent windshield wiper settings or cruise control or.. or… or.

You get the picture. I use most of these technologies quite frequently. Most of the time I don't even notice that I use them.

What I did notice, though, was not one of these technologies but the absence of one.

A few weeks ago I was attending a meeting in a large public building.
During a break in the meeting I used the rest room.
What caught my attention was that I paused for a fraction of a second wondering why the faucets did not turn on when I put my hand under them. Yes, really. I hand't even looked down at the sink, I just placed my hands under the faucet and expected the faucet to turn on.
The fact that I had to wonder, even if for less than a second, why the water hand;t turned on made me realize that I am being conditioned to be helpless.

This will never happen to me; I think too much. I look around too much. I want to know how EVERYTHING works…. but it could happen (and I am sure it already is) to others.

I am frightened by a world where there are people who are so helpless that they wouldn't know HOW to turn on the water in the public restroom if it didn't have automatic faucets.

You may laugh but I ask you this: how many of the people you contact daily/weekly/monthly/annually could you call if you didn't have the phone book in your cellphone? How many could you email if you lost your PDA (or other contacts list)?

Think back to ten years ago - how different was your list of people you could contact without assistance then?

Now imagine a world 15 years from now when the people who are 15 have NEVER known a time where there were no cell phones…. NEVER known a time where there was no internet…. NEVER known a time with no automatic faucets and toilet flushers…
This will be the time when automatic faucets and toilet flushers are as inexpensive as the manual ones; what will be put into houses automatically?

Now think of a world 30 years from now when the kids born 15 years from now have NEVER known a world where you had to flush the toilet or turn on the faucet yourself.

What will people be able to do for themselves in that world that lies 30 years in our future?

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Media Companies are WRONG

I frequently hear discussion about the media creation/consumption business model.
I, even more frequently. see news articles on the rise of piracy, etc and how that is costing the media companies billions of dollars a year.

My response to all of this is that the media companies are wrong in nearly every important way.

First: the concept of a "channel" is obsolete.
I don't care about channels. I don't care about the network brand. I care about the specific shows. I may not be the average media consumer but, in this, I think I am well matched with the average consumer. Consumers want the content; they do not care about the network it is on.
One of the reasons that DVD sales of TV shows are so popular is that people want to purchase THAT show. They do not care when/where it airs. They want the show.

Second: the idea of a programming grid is obsolete.
I don't care when a show airs anymore. I have not watched live TV in YEARS. I don;t know what channel (see point one) or what time any of my favorite shows air. I have a TiVo. I LOVE my TiVo because it makes TV watchable again. I don't LOVE my TiVo because I can skip commercials (skipping commercials, ESPECIALLY terrible ones is an added bonus - but NOT the primary reason for having a TiVo). My TiVo (and other DVRs) free us, the consumer, from the oppression of the programming grid. That is why they (and VCRs before them) are so popular. People just do not want to re-adjust their schedule to align with what's airing on TV. They want TV to fill the gaps in.

Third: bundled packages are obsolete.
One of the reasons the iTunes store is so successful is that people can buy ONE song on an album. The day of an artist producing an album with 3 good songs and ten or twelve garbage songs is over. People only purchase the GOOD songs now.
One of the reasons that DVD sales of TV shows are so popular is that people want to purchase THAT show.
The comment above about DVD sales also applies here for the same reason.

This means that media companies that believe they need to provide entertainment to us using a programming grid where programs are delivered serially on channels where we can only purchase channels in bundles are not simply obsolete: they are obsolete to the third power. These companies are the most wrong because each fundamental pillar of their business is based on forcing their customers to use a delivery method that they do not want to be locked into.

Media piracy is NOT a business killer; it's a byproduct of doing the business badly.
Content consumers are not asking for much. They simply want the entertainment they want WHEN they want it  at a reasonable price. Again, I come back to the success of the iTunes store as an example of providing content at reasonable prices to consumers when they want it and with a selection that provides them most of what they want.
Piracy became rampant when technologies were created by people who wanted content that they were unable to acquire through legitimate means. Piracy grew rampant among the average person when those technologies became easy to acquire and use.
Piracy has declined in its rise and in its general use since the advent of technologies that make it easier and reasonably priced to acquire the desired content (again, back to the iTunes store as an example).

The old model of media business is also the new model. They are not different. They are not in conflict. They are not in opposition.
First: People are used to free TV programming that is paid for by advertisements.
Second: Media companies are used to having their content paid for by advertisers who advertise during the commercial breaks.
Third: Advertisers are used to paying to have their products shown to audiences that meet their general demographics.


The specific execution MUST change, but not the model itself.

Working backwards:
Advertisers LOVE having better data on their targets.
Advertisers LOVE greater granularity in their target audiences. It generates higher value per ad placed.
The proof in these statements lies in the success of Facebook and Google. Both of these companies tailor their advertising at such a granular level that they target individuals instead of groups.
Advertisers LOVE data on who is seeing their ads and when.
With the model I will outline below you will see how the new technologies facilitate ALL of the advertisers' needs.
Media companies are used to two revenue models: advertising and direct sale of the content.
Currently media companies sell access to HUGE blocks of consumers with mostly generalized demographics.
With the model I will outline below you will see how the new technologies facilitate ALL of the media companies' needs.
I am used to ads. You are used to ads. We both hate the ads, but we are used to them. We may skip them from time to time, but we're used to them. I am often multitasking while watching TV (Tetris) so I let the ads play unless they annoy me; then I bother to pause my game and fast forward through ALL the ads in that block. One annoying ad punishes ALL of the ads in the block with it.
With the model I will outline below you will see how the new technologies facilitate ALL of the MY needs for a wide selection of inexpensive content on MY schedule.

The model is VERY simple.

Abolish ALL channels. Abolish the programming grid.
Replace all channel-based, serialized technology with a single interface that is easy to use (I suggest the interface developed by TiVo) where users can search for content by name, actors in the content, directors, etc.
Allow users to "subscribe" to new episodes of their favorite content so that it appears in their inbox/queue/"Now Playing" list automatically when it is available.
Have THREE methods of paying for the programming you are watching:
    1. Ads that interrupt the program (like what we have now).
    2. Direct payment (like the iTunes store, Amazon store, NetFlix, etc) per view.
    3. Ads that frame the program (e.g. the program is shrunk and silent ads are displayed AROUND the program while you watch it.

Make sure that ALL ads are clickable (e.g. you can pause the program and click on the ad to learn more and then return to exactly where you left off in your program).

Users would pay a base subscription rate for their raw bandwidth (like the internet and cable bills now).
Users would have access to ALL content EVER produced at ALL times.
Advertisements would be embedded by user/family NOT by programming type.
Payments for the advertising would go to the media producer and media delivery company (I suggest 85% / 15% split). In the event that the content is in the public domain then the payments would differ by type as follows:
    1. fewer ads to interrupt the program.
    2. smaller payment
    3. smaller reduction in the size of the screen used for the content / smaller volume of ad space around the programming.

Furthermore, it would be possible for users to cache programming "credits." If I watched a "block" of programming with both the embedded ads AND framed ads then I would, essentially, have a credit with the media delivery company. I could apply this credit to have an uninterrupted, non-framed "block" of programming in the future. (Some additional work on this is required to determine which content provider gets the payment for the "blocks" consumed).

What are the major benefits for media companies?
    Media production companies continue to gain revenue from EVERYTHING they have ever produced every time it is watched. This is true until the copyright on it expires.
    ANY media production company can get their content in the available content: not just large production houses.
    Media delivery companies cease to have to build programming guides that make no one happy.
    Media delivery companies get their base rate PLUS some cash for EVERY program watched.
    Media companies will have EXACT "ratings" numbers on their content instead of estimated numbers based on sample audiences.
    Media production and delivery companies could state that "credits" are ONLY good on future media consumption and only valid within a certain time frame from when they are earned. This means that unused "credits" would turn into permanent additional revenue for them.

What are the major benefits for advertisers?
    EVERY ad is targeted specifically for the audience.
    Advertisers will be able to know exactly which demographics are viewing their ads.
    Advertisers will have EXACT "ratings" numbers on their content instead of estimated numbers based on sample audiences.
    EVERY ad is clickable and leads to more information on the product. This makes the customers of the advertising agencies VERY happy.

What are the major benefits for me?
    ANY content I want whenever I want it.
    Cheap, reliable content access.

The media companies are wrong in their stubbornness. The specific model they are desperately clinging to is obsolete and leads to us, the consumers, filling our needs elsewhere.
The new model works the same way ONLY BETTER. Better for us, better for them. Better for everyone.

Why is it that this seems so simple to me, yet the major media companies can't see it?

Note: yes, I am fully aware that YouTube meets many of the criteria for functionality of my model. I had this idea many years ago, when YouTube was online, but it holds true still. Sadly, major media companies are fighting the idea of their content ending up there rather than embracing it and monetizing it. If YouTube were attached to a TiVo front end AND it had ALL content ever produced it would be the perfect model for the technology levels we have available right now.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Perception of Value

I like Halloween.
I like Halloween because, even as an adult, I like to play "let's pretend" in my own mind.
I'm not much of an actor, but I enjoy the process of theatre.
Because of that I enjoy costuming.
Halloween is the one time of year that I can wear costumes out and about without anyone thinking it odd.

$100 is a lot to spend on a costume. Even if it were a costume I REALLY wanted I probably wouldn;t spend $100 on it at the Halloween store.

But I am CERTAIN I have spent more than that on all of the components that are making the costume I am going to wear this year.
One piece alone (not quite finished yet) has a $5 piece of PVC tube, 1 $10 piece of PVC tubing, a $5 PVC tube cap and a few PVC couplers ranging in price from $.90 to $2. There is, in this piece, a motor, some lights and a couple of switches. All in all, this one piece will probably have cost me $50 when I am done with it. Does this bother me? A little. A VERY small amount. Why? Because of perception.

By buying the pieces one at a time and assembling them I FEEL like I am saving money. I FEEL like each expenditure is insignificant (and, really, each ONE is; it's the summation that isn't).

I find it interesting that, even knowing that perception is the key to value, that I am still perceiving something that is A LOT of work AND costs more as being less wasteful than spending $100 on a costume at the Halloween store. Granted, this costume is not available in any store so I CAN'T just purchase it, but if it were I would have to examine the cost versus the amount of work.... and I would probably still choose the harder and more expensive route. Sigh.... at least I'm consistent in my behavior.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Good Audio Fiction

Below are some links to episode pages from some podcasts I listen to.

If you wonder about what, if anything, is after death and/or what does life mean just download and listen to these stories to feed your frustration about never being able to know.
Article of Faith
Unexpected Outcomes
Hell is the Absence of God

And, for good measure here's one that shows what can happen if we let media companies become too powerful:
Herding Vegetable Sheep

And these are are a funny, but frightening look at marketing and products:
The Love Quest of Smidgen the Snack Cake
Conversations With and About My Electric Toothbrush

Work vs Lunch

I often take a late lunch.
It's usually because I am working and I work straight through lunch time without realizing that lunchtime has come and gone already.
Usually, when that happens, I can manage to take a lunch when I am hungry.
Sometimes, though, that becomes an impossibility.
I had one of those days last week and I made a twitter/facebook comment about my 4:25 pm lunch.

One of my friends made an interesting reply. She said, quite plainly, what would happen if I took a lunch anyway.

I replied, quite honestly, that the work that I left behind would seek out reinforcements and, together, all of the work would ambush me upon my return from lunch.

While this is somewhat melodramatic and hyperbolic for most days there are days where it is true.

Today, a day where I NEED to leave work at 2:15, is one of those days.

The five minutes it took me to write this is the summation of all the time I have been able to do ANYTHING not work related today.
I tried to go to lunch at noon and I was inundated with 5 users all needing attention for immediate issues.
I tried to go to lunch at 12:30 and I was inundated by 3 different users with 3 different problems.
I tried to go to lunch at 1 and I realized that if I am leaving at 2:15 leaving for lunch at 1 is a bad idea and would make returning from lunch foolish... which would mean I left for the day at 1.

So, here it is, 1:50 and I am getting a few minutes to reflect on today before I leave.

Even though I am leaving early to go to a funeral, I am SOOOO glad the week is FINALLY over.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

You know what they say about assuming......

My "heavy lifting" season at work is the summer.
My hardest time of year to survive is the end of summer through mid-October.

This year proved more difficult in both of those areas than in the past.
There are a variety of reasons for this, some of them were things that I could have controlled had I anticipated them and others were things completely beyond my control.
The important part of the pieces that I can control is that I have learned from my inefficiencies of this past summer and have drawn up plans to improve MANY aspects of my annual summer process. If any ONE of the changes makes a positive change to the overall result (and none make negative change) the entire summer season will be MUCH better than it was this year. If they ALL prove to be positive change then the result will be noticeable to nearly everyone in my organization.

But all of that is in the future and NOT the reason for this post.
The reason for the post is that sometimes people ASSUME that they know your job better than you do.
Often they don't even realize they are making an assumption.

This recently (and currently) happened to me.
As I have said before I work in I.T.
I manage and service computers.
I have a few options for many of my repair needs: a large-scale deployment-based repair center and a local repair center.
For warranty purposes there is nothing better than the large-scale repair center. They're fast and the warranty repairs are free. They are, however, VERY expensive for non-warranty repairs. Their non-warranty repairs are based on a tiered pricing structure at which the least expensive non-warranty repair requiring parts is tier 1 and tier 1 is $250.
The local shop, on the other hand, charges me only the price of the parts and shipping plus a fair and appropriate flat fee for each laptop that is serviced. Sometimes that fee is a great deal for them: other times it is a great deal for me. It averages out. If they get something that is a warranty repair then they do not even bill me. The least expensive non-warranty repair there is $40.95. Other repairs are more expensive, but rarely do I get a bill that approaches the tier 1 price of $250; when I do it wouldn't be covered as a tier 1 repair at the depot (usually it is a tier 3).
The last time I checked my math $40.95 is significantly cheaper than $250.
The drawback is that they are MUCH smaller and cannot handle a large volume in a timely manner.
So my process has been quite simple: anything OBVIOUSLY out of warranty goes to the less expensive repair center; anything that MIGHT be under warranty goes to the depot. If the depot wants to bill me I have them send it back and then take it to the less expensive repair center.

This one person made an assumption. Because there was a backlog of equipment that had not been repaired at the less expensive repair shop the assumption was that I had automatically sent ALL of my equipment there. The assumption was being made that since I had many repairs with bills attached that I must be making bad choices on which devices were warranty eligible and which ones were not. The assumption was being made that ALL devices that went to the local shop generated a bill even if they could have been covered under warranty at the depot.
The person assumed that I am an idiot and completely incompetent.

There was a meeting this morning. There were people there from the management of the large-program deployment. During the meeting they tried to NOT answer questions specifically, but I was having none of that.

In the end, I managed to get the people from the large-scale deployment office to answer questions specifically and according to their manual. The answers reinforced my methods and statements for the last several months. Only one answer was not in my favor and that one was accompanied by statements that they had changed their practices to the new method and did not publish their changes - meaning that I was doing what I was able to do based on their previous methodology.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

A Quick and Easy Fix for the Anti-Business Environment in My State

I'm not a politician.
I never will be.
I will never run for public office because I know I would not accomplish anything.
Getting elected would simply be a waste of my time.
It would be a waste of my time because the career politicians would try to block any changes I would try to make that threatened their power base. The stupid people would try to undo any changes I tried to make for the long-term good that threatened a short-term benefit. Both entrenched political parties would try to stop me from accomplishing anything useful because it would make their inability to do so look bad.

Because I cannot accomplish anything if I were ever to get elected I will not try.

This, of course, frustrates me beyond all comprehension because I have some good ideas that are incredibly simple which would improve things in this state. They might even be applicable elsewhere to improve things in this country.

One of these ideas for this state is a way to make it less hostile to business.
This state has a reputation for VERY aggressively collecting any and all taxes that it thinks anyone owes it. It has aggressive taxation for the residents and more aggressive taxation for businesses. This has to change if it is ever to bring more business and more employment here. The way things are at this moment it is driving away good jobs and leaving the remainder to pay higher taxation on the services being applied.

Here's a quick and easy way to increase business presence (and thus, jobs) in this state:
Offer a five year 50% tax reduction for any company that creates new jobs (only applicable on the percentage of their company that the new jobs reflect). If they have employees and hire a tenth they get 50% tax cut on 10% of their profit. If they have no presence in this state and they open a factory or call center or retail outlet they get 50% tax break on the entire facility that they open. Attach a rider to this tax break: any company opting into this break MUST retain the affected positions for a total of 10 years. Failure to retain the positions for 10 years means the company must pay back the discount PLUS INTEREST.

The state government is unable to see past the "lost revenue" created by the cut to see why this is beneficial even though it is VERY SIMPLE.
Its simplicity is its beauty: some money is better than no money.
The newly created jobs will, usually, generate more taxable income for the company. That additional income will be taxed at a discounted rate, but if the company had not expanded then it wouldn't have any new revenue to tax in the first place. Some new revenue is better than no new revenue.
The newly created job will go to a person. That person will have income. That income, which did not exist before, will be taxed by the income tax. Some revenue is better than no revenue.
The newly created job will have income. That income will be used to purchase more goods and services in the state. Those goods and services are taxed. Some revenue is better than no revenue.
The person who holds this job may or may not have been unemployed before. If they were they no longer will be. This means that they will be earning their money instead of receiving an hand-out from the state while they seek a new job. No negative revenue is better than some negative revenue.
Locking in a new job for 10 years is a boon to the general economy. The tax cut is a boon to the companies that are on the edge of creating a new job but who can't quite afford it right now.
Locking in the new jobs for 10 years locks the employers into the state for that time. It makes it easier to get in and get started but harder to exit.

Since what we need is to reverse the trend of it being easy to exit and hard to start we should examine this.

Any politician is welcome to use this idea so long as they openly admit it is not their own and direct people here if they are asked whose idea if is.
Any politician who likes this idea is free to comment on the post. I am happy to share many other ideas that I think would improve the quality and diversity of available services while holding costs steady OR reducing costs while holding the quality and diversity of services constant. It's REALLY hard to reduce costs AND increase services but I even have a few ideas about where that can be done.

Yes, I think to much about everything.

Death Happens

Death happens.
It is a part of life.
It never happens at a convenient time for the end of life is never convenient for the one dying.
It never happens at a convenient time for those left behind are left behind.

We shouldn't fear death because it happens to EVERYONE. Death is natural. Death is the ONLY thing, other than being alive, that is shared by ALL life forms.

We shouldn't mourn the passing of those we care about because their death means they lived. Their death means they EXISTED. Their death means that they had a life.

Not dying means not having existed and that is a far worse situation than eventually dying.

The next time someone you know dies keep this in mind. Celebrate their life and the fact that they existed instead of mourning their loss. Don't be sad. Don't be angry. Don't let the sense of loss crush you. Be happy and joyful that the infinitesimal probability of events that led to them existing happened instead of the infinite alternate paths that would have prevented their existence.

Remember these things.

By the way: it's ok to be sad, too. Sadness just means you're human. Humans are irrational, but that's part of what makes us what we are.

Friday, October 8, 2010


It's AMAZING how much getting things done actually alleviates stress.

Today ended with a visual inventory being taken of ALL deployed laptops in one of my buildings.
This, combined with the list of people who needed laptops in the first place, gives me an accurate way to fill in the gaps with the devices I have left to hand out.
Tuesday will solve the problem of the laptops in that building. By Wednesday morning all of the required laptops will be waiting for the users when they arrive.
In a couple of weeks it will have been one full cycle that I have been responsible for this building. I am trying to make positive change to this building while working within some of the framework of the person's method who came before me. This is VERY difficult to do when they declined to leave you ANY documentation as to their methods, etc. It's been a rough year learning how the building does things and what their expectations are. The culture in the building is starting to change; but not fast enough. Many of them claim to want input on the way I do things but then are unwilling to spend the time and energy needed to make that input happen. Despite this, another year will bring a significant level of positive change to this building from my department.

In my other problematic building I make progress EVERY day I set foot in the building. The other staff in THAT building appreciate the work I do and notice my efforts. It is nice to see notes made in the minutes of meetings I was not at where my efforts were publicly commended. Working with the staff in this building is (usually) great because they show genuine desire to work WITH me so that I can work WITH them to meet THEIR needs. I appreciate it when people recognize that I am here to help them and they use me as the resource I am meant to be in a respectful manner. I am looking forward to being able to implement the changes I am outlining for the next retraction/deployment cycle because I believe that any ONE of those changes will dramatically reduce problems in the cycle - let alone if ALL of them do.

Sadly, I can't fix the labor or equipment limitations on the process.... but I CAN (and will) leverage the labor and equipment resources available to me.

All of this goes back to something I said in an earlier post: treating the person you are working with / who is serving you with respect goes a LONG way to making their life (and, eventually, yours) better.

In short: today was a good day.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Rambling Post

I have too many things to specifically write about one today. Instead of a single topic I am going to write out a few short blurbs.

I am glad to have allies at work. My de-facto supervisor is a good guy who is supportive of my problems.
I have a few people that appreciate the work I do.
It is worthwhile to remember these people ALWAYS, ESPECIALLY when one of the others (who is not following the rules anyway) if publicly decrying one's efforts.

I am glad to have supportive friends. People who can sympathize with my situation.

I am glad to have a supportive girlfriend who tries to help (even when I already know the path and just need to vent to avoid an explosion of fury).

I am glad to have a means to entertain myself in the car for my 2.5 hours of daily commute. Podcasts are my friend.

I am glad that I am able to detect when my breaking point is being reached and walk away BEFORE it happens. Nothing is quite so harmful as losing one's temper.

I am glad that the hell of the beginning of school is nearly over. I need a break from this overly-rigorous pace.

I am glad that I am able to (sometimes) take a bad day and force myself to look at the good things instead. I think it helps (but I am not sure if it actually does or if I just think it does - I'll find out when the next annoyance appears).

If you're having a hard time with a day I recommend trying to look at the positives and focus on them for 10 minutes. It might help and, at the very least, it gives you a 10 minutes break from the stress.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Filled with Rage

Recently work has been VERY tough.

Here's a quick outline of HOW tough:
I was hired to manage ~500 laptops in one building, ~175 laptops in another and bring an over-arching technology management philosophy to all of the buildings in my organization unit (staff management, develop a centralized budget, etc).

Less than two months after I started working I was dumped a third building with ~350 laptops on me AND a hostile environment to work in because the person who left had wanted my job and did not get it... resulting in MANY people in that building having negative feelings toward me without ever having met me.

Rough math based ONLY on what I have listed above shows that, 2 months after I was hired, my job increased in workload by 52%. I got no pay raise.

Combine that additional workload with the fact that ALL of the equipment is an additional year older AND a last-minute decision dumped an unexpected 7.5 person-weeks of work onto my department and you can see why I am filled with rage. Everyone wants 100% service with only 25% manpower.

How am I handling this? Badly. I am filling with more and more stress each day and I will continue to do so until the last of the laptops have finished with their annual servicing and are no longer needing to be queued for the work.

I will continue to be over-stressed until I can move into the phase of the year where I can work on trying to streamline and improve the work flow for NEXT year's annual service.

There are three things I am trying to do to manage the stress right at this moment:
1. I am writing about my problem in an effort to vent out some of the stress.
2. I am planning to watch some cached sitcoms (How I Met Your Mother is fantastic - if you have not watched it you MUST).
3. After I watch an episode I will take the dog for a walk to the nearby Stone Cold Creamery store and get an ice cream.

I am also planning to have a talk with some of the people further up the chain to explain to them that a 52% increase in normal day-to-day workload PLUS the added project that they thrust upon us at the last minute is the reason that we are having such significant problems keeping up with the demand of the other employees. I will also point out that we're ahead of the schedule laid out last year in the buildings that I was SUPPOSED to be working on from the point that I was hired.

And, of course, I have developed some plans for how to fix things... and am working on other improvements, too.

The morale of today's post: rage happens; how we deal with it is what makes or breaks us. I am trying to deal with mine in a constructive manner (mostly - ice cream doesn't really count) because it is what is best for me and for my users in the long run.

Let's hope that the people further up the chain see and acknowledge my efforts (AND that I was unfairly given a 52% increase in workload less than 2 months after my hire date).

Sunday, October 3, 2010


I'm agnostic.
I find it amusing that some people seem to get VERY offended with that term.
I've had people tell me that calling myself agnostic is me being too afraid to say what I mean - that I should stand up for my beliefs and just admit to being atheist.
I've also had people try to tell me that that means I am going to hell.

Without delving into the whole topic of how foolish and hypocritical I find many people who decide to condemn my beliefs (that is a topic for another day and another post) I want to outline what, exactly, the term "agnostic" means  to many of the people that I know that use it.

It does NOT mean atheist.
It does NOT mean that we are anti-religion.
It does NOT mean that we condemn people who are religious.
It does NOT mean we condemn atheists.

It, essentially, means we are a scientist.

Many religious people find science threatening (note: I fully understand that there is probably a MUCH larger group of religious people who do NOT find science threatening - more on this topic someday in the future). This is something I completely and totally fail to understand. Science is not the enemy of anyone. Science is not a thing. Science is a process. That process is aimed at understanding the world around by observation and testing. Despite the assertions by those religious fundamentalists who are afraid of science: it is not a faith-based way of operating. Science is about the absence of faith. Science is about the need to have a preponderance of evidence to support an idea before it is accepted as fact.

That is why I am agnostic. I fail to have FAITH in anything.
I do not have faith that there is no god (that would make me an atheist).
I do not have faith that there is a single, all-powerful god (that would make me a mono-theist).
I do not have faith that there is a pantheon of gods struggling for the love and adoration of the people (that would make me a pagan).

I accept things as fact only when the preponderance of evidence shows me that I should. I accept that the sun will rise over the horizon tomorrow morning because the last several billions of years have shown evidence that it will. I accept that I will have air to breath tomorrow for the same reason. I accept that if I drink a glass of water it will help alleviate thirst.

I accept the world as I experience it.
I accept the scientific evidence for many things as it is compiled by the research of others.
I even accept the evidence that bad science is self defeating because others will come along and uncover it for what it is.
It may seem I have "faith" in things like evolution, or the existence of life on other planets, or the age of the Earth but, I assure you, it is not FAITH. It's science.
The Theory of Evolution can NEVER be proven unless someone has a means to travel MILLIONS of light years from where the Earth was millions of years ago AND has a powerful enough telescope to look at the animals on the ground AND has the means to record the life that it sees for the millions of year AND a means to play that back to us in time-lapse form. It's simply not going to happen. Because we cannot do that we cannot PROVE evolutions what led us to be here today: it will remain a full-blown theory for the remainder of humanity. But ALL of the scientific evidence points to it as a solid and well-developed explanation that works. The archeology, the anthropology, the current divergence of species, the biology, EVERYTHING. I accept evolution because ALL of the evidence points to it being a solid explanation.
Likewise, I accept the age of the Earth because the evidence points to it being MUCH older than the 6,000 years outlined in the bible.
I also accept that the idea that there is no other life in the universe is ridiculous (this does not mean I have faith it has been here). Anyone can test this one for themselves. Make a two column spreadsheet. Put in the following terms from the Drake equation:
1. The number of stars in our galaxy (raw number)
2. The percentage of star that have planets (a number between 0 and 1 - perhaps .25)
3. The average number of planets that can support life in a system with planets (in our system this is 1, our knowledge of exo-systems is limited. This will probably be significantly closer to 0).
4. The percentage of life-capable planets that actually develop life (given current locations of life I expect this to be close to 1).
5. The percentage of life-supporting planets that develop intelligent life (between 0 and 1, probably very sloe to zero)
6. The fraction of planets who develop intelligent life that then develops a means to signal their existence (again, a number between 0 and 1, this one is probably in the middle)

Multiply these 6 factors together and you get the raw number of technological civilizations to have ever existed in our galaxy. There is an estimated 100 Billion stars in our galaxy. Assuming that only 1% of ALL stars have planets and that systems are approximately 8 planets per system with 2 out of 500 (our current knowledge) planets being able to support life and that 50% of those planets will develop life and that .01% of those planets will develop intelligent life and that 50% of intelligent life is able to develop technology that can signal its presence to the stars we have 3200 civilizations existing in our galaxy.

There are ways to refine this equation… but this was a post about being agnostic, not a post about alien life but the numbers don't lie :-)