Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Why CONTROL is bad and CHAOS is good

     Do you remember the old "Get Smart" TV show in which 2 agencies, KAOS and CONTROL,
battled it out in 007 like fashion only with Mel Brooks style humor?   I loved that show and all its crazy antics and gags.  Today ,it seems, we have the same agencies at work in our country today only they are not fighting each other with shoe-phones and pen-lazers.  Instead they are fighting each other in the public vs private sector.

    On the one side we have CONTROL (government) and on the other side we have KAOS (private sector).   But unlike the TV show, it's KAOS (in my opinion) that are the good guys and CONTROL that is that bad guys.   Our government has done a good job of indoctrinating us that chaos is bad for our society and that order and control are more palatable and sustainable.   While some manner of regulation is good (to keep the trains running on time),  long-range planning and development are not the public-sectors best qualities.  Whenever the  idea of giving over an area of operation from the government to a private-sector entity, many naysayers will most likely jump and down like a bunch of frogs declaring, "There will be CHAOS if we let that happen! We need the government to have CONTROL of this/that area!"

   But in the long run, chaos is actually better than control.   Take for example, our earth's web-of-life. While there is no over-arching control mechanism (if you believe in evolution) it seems to manage itself quite well.  Sure, millions of species have gone extinct over its billions of years, but things have still progressed.   Chaos allows for nature to develop a myriad of solutions geared to survive/thrive in the most inhospitable places on the planet as each creature is solving a very simple equation:
     Those acquainted with math will know that their are 2 ways to maximize this function.  The first is of course to extend your life span, but the other is to make the energy-used as SMALL as possible.  Of course the 2 factors are also interdependent in many ways.  I can expand my life-span by going to the gym and exercising, but expending too much energy at one time can also end my life if I am not careful.  So also, creation knows that by living longer it provides them more opportunities to create more of their kind and by limiting their energy they can ensure that they provide themselves stored energy for times when food supplies are low.

    Take for example,  the Spadefoot Toad that lives in the Arizona
Desert (yes there are frogs there).  These toads bury themselves in the ground and go into hibernation waiting for the first good rain to happen.  When it does, they are re-activated and come out to mate before the water dries up.  They have adapted their lives to their environment to solve the equation the way no other toad could.

This is what I call:  goal-based-chaos.

    The problem with control-based-systems, is that like a chessboard with an infinite-by-infinite board space you cannot possibly consider all the possibilities and therefore you
cannot play out all possible actions and reactions.  Therefore those in charge must limit their choices to but a handful of moves and only look ahead to 1 or 2 moves.  This short-sighted and limited choice player is doomed to lose against its opponent: the universe.  Imagine yourself playing chess on 100-dimensional chessboard with against 99 players who are not playing against each other, but instead are playing against YOU.  Not only are they playing against you, they have another advantage as well in that hey will out live you too!    What probability do you think you have in winning that game?  Answer: ZERO!   But that is exactly the game you play when trying to control the universe.   Your better option would be to relinquish control and adopt a chaotic-system approach in which it's not just YOU a single person, but instead 6 BILLION (and counting) of you playing at the same time, each for its own advantage but combined have better odds of winning (or at least lasting longer in the game).

     Take for example the issue of education.  We hear many politicians cry that we need to "educate our children for the jobs of the future!".   When they say this they are implying high-tech-computer-driven jobs of course.   They push for computers in every classroom, computer-literacy classes, web-driven-education and the like.  They mandate educational programs like "Common Core" to standardize education for the masses and prepare them for jobs of the future.    Too often, these same politicians view education like a automobile-assembly-line in which employers
at the end of the line receive their "finished product" (your child) ready to work in their corporate kingdom of cubicles.  They act as if they were given crystal ball in which they have stared into the future or something of that matter and can predict what kinds of "workers" our world will need.   But the truth be told, they have no such crystal-ball.  They, like the rest of us, are merely extrapolating what is happening around them today and trying desperately to see the next move on the chessboard. By "standardizing" the education process they are limiting the outcomes in what our children may become.

What will the jobs be in 20 years?   I don't know ... and neither do our politicians.  

      To understand this better, consider the following.  Our planet recently (last summer) came 9 days
away from being struck by a solar-blast that would have sent us back to the early 1800's by wiping our our complete electrical grid and high-tech instruments (satellites, computers,... etc) for a minimum of 5 to 10 years!  (this is not a conspiracy theory as this was reported on all the major news outlets).  This also is not something that has never happened before.  Back in 1859 a solar flare burned out our entire telegraph system.  They did not know it at the time but now we do know that was the cause.    If that had happened today, what would have been the jobs of  the future?   Answer: probably farming (by hand).

     But it won't take a catastrophe either to do us in. Instead, it could be technology itself hitting a dead-end that may change our course.  For example: what happens when Moore's Law comes to an end.    Moore's Law (more of a prediction than a law really) says "The number of transistors on a chip will double every two years".   But no one says that this prediction can go on "forever" since transistors would eventually hit a point where they are only a few atoms in size and at that point their ability to do the job of a "electrical switch" becomes near impossible without it being unreliable. 

 This "law" has been in effect since 1968 since Gordon Moore (founder of Intel) first said it and it is solely responsible for the technological advancement of the last 50 years.  But like all good things, it too must come to an end, as making the transistors smaller and smaller (now 14 billionths of an inch wide) will eventually become too costly and reach its physical limits.    

     What impact will that have in 20 years to jobs?   We don't know.  We may need more programmers to make as much use out of our computer speed/capacity as we will no longer be able to put MORE processors and logic on our chips.   With silicon resources being limited,  putting logic on the chips will become too difficult.  It could be that layout engineers (a 2 year degree) may become more valuable than engineers with 4 year degrees.   Who knows?   What if we train a bunch of people for jobs that are no longer required or needed?   What then?  

      Just like the assembly-line, one of the biggest issues facing manufacturers is how long it takes to shift your production line.   If a product takes a month from beginning to end on the assembly line, changes in customer needs or desires cause mayhem on the production line since countless product already on the conveyor-belt will have to be scrapped when it falls off the end because there is no customer there to receive it.   For products like cars that is fine, but our children are not cars which can be flung aside.

How to win at multi-board Chess

   Back to our illustration of playing a 100-level board game of chess where the other 199 players are out to defeat you.  There are ways to improve your odds of winning the game.  One way would be to
employ 99 extra helpers to watch the other boards and inform you if they are putting themselves in position to take your king and alert you in the advent that is about to happen.  While this method multiplies the number of "eyes" in the game and improves your defense, it does not improve your ability to win the game (offense).  Second it still requires more data to be streamed to a single decision maker who must sift through all the information he is being given to make an "informed" decision.   In this scenario, often the decision maker will segregate his informers into "trusted" and "untrusted" and put more weight on the "trusted" informers.

    Another solution would be to add 99 more chessboards (for a total of 199 boards) and 198 more
players who are on your side (or I should say your TEAMS side) and give them a set of goals to achieve so they may play autonomously from you.

Rule #1: Your king is more important than their king and they     should do everything they can to protect it.  

Rule #2: They should play their board to win against their opponent

Rule #3: If they lose their board (ie their king) they need to stay and  work with the other players to teach them what they did wrong and how your opponent beat you.

   With these sets of goals/rules, you have a goal-based-chaotic system that increases YOUR chances to win without you being the main decision maker.  Each person would be looking out for their own benefit and yours at the same time.

     Our own system of government can also be viewed as a goal-based-chaotic system as well.  Our founders set up a small basic set of rules to follow by supplying us a Constitution and allowing our states to be relatively self-governing.   While those on the "central planning side" of the aisle feel safer with all decisions emanating from a small group of "great thinkers", our system works better because it allows us tailor our laws to meet that groups needs rather than a one-size-fits-all approach. It is also more efficient as it allows less time to be wasted on issues that do not apply to them. For example, states on the coasts can spend time dealing with issues like off-shore-drilling or deep sea fishing rights whereas states in the Midwest can focus their concerns on farming or tornado-disaster-preparation.   In fact, all the states can manage whatever issue is the most concerning for them all at the same time rather than wait their turn to meet with the great-thinkers of the central committee. 

     In conclusion, no one person (or political party) knows what the future holds.   To put all of your eggs in one basket makes as much sense like a single person playing a high-stakes-chess against the universe.  Therefore, we are better off allowing freedom/chaos to reign and make the decisions rather than a small group of  so-called "know-it-all's" do our planning for us who can't see beyond the next election (let alone the next century).  In the end, you are better off to admit you know nothing of the future and plan your own life around being a person who has many abilities that can adapt to whatever the universe throws you tomorrow or the next day.


Monday, March 17, 2014

Not all reading is the same

   My son has read more novels already than I ever have (I've only read 3 in my life).  He has read all the "Harry Potter" books, Leminy Snickets" and a few other series books.   We never had trouble getting him to read when he was young and his Star-Testing showed no issue in this area.   But when it came to reading textbooks like History and Science, there were problems that arose by junior high.  We took him to "Huntington Learning Center" for help.  Their testing showed that while his reading speed (words-per-minute) was fine, his information retention was a concern.   This was because he was never taught how to read for "information" and was only taught to read for pleasure. 

   The people at Hungtington then showed us how they were going to fix this issue with our son and I
remember instantly recognizing the material as soon as they placed it on the table. It was an "SRA Reading Lab" packet.  I used this when I was in elementary school from 3rd to 8th grade.   These were "bite-sized" articles that a kids can read in a few minutes and answer 10 questions on what they read.  These were not stories about witches and warlocks or teenagers turning into werewolves, but instead about a broad range of topics covering history, society or science.  Huntington taught my son "HOW to read" an article for information.  They taught him to:
  1. Read the first and last paragraph first (this will tell you what the article is about and where the author is taking you)
  2. Read the bold-face heading of the article (this will show you the stopping off points)
  3. Read the first/last sentence of every paragraph and any sentence that has a number in it (this could be a date or a value)
  4. Finally read the whole article in detail.
    For me, I did not learn this method until I got into college but for my son it made a measurable difference.   Luckily when I was younger my father, who was a teacher, pointed me to the encyclopedias (we had a World Book set at home) whenever I had a question he felt he could not answer adequately.  I would often have 3-5 books open at the same time as one article would lead me to 2 or 3 other articles.   This provided me with the skills I would need for my future more than any novel would ever be able to do.

   Read for pleasure vs Read for information

   First of all, I don't want to knock novel-reading totally.  If it gets a kid to read and insure he is literate then I am all for it. But much of our testing in schools today only seem to focus on this one area.  For a large percentage of us, informational-reading will be a required ability in our jobs (unless your a book editor looking for the next Hemingway).  Reading for information has been shown to use different areas in the brain than when we read a novel.  Novels excite areas in the brain requiring imagination and visualization whereas informational reading exercises memory and critical thinking.   We need help our kids develop this ability for them to be successful.   Whether it's reading a stock report, a university study, a study on a new drug, a customer claim, a legal document, a report on product results.. the list goes on and on. 

   Some suggestions for parents: (things I wish I had done with my kids more)
  1. Use encyclopedias at home - I know in the days of Wikipedia this seems old fashioned but its
    not.  Wikipedia is written for adults (academia mostly) and not for children.  Also, it allows you to cover multiple topics at the same time and cross reference them.  (I still believe the printed word is superior to a computer screen in this manner).  Point them to them when they have questions (even better sit down with them and read it together).  While NEW encyclopedia sets can be expensive, you can often purchased used sets for much less money (I found a 1980 set for $40 on Criagslist) and they are still good sources of information for kids in elementary/high school.
  2. Use SRA reading labs at home - you can purchase used sets from Amazon for about $400-$800.  While this seems a bit pricy, the value they provide is very well worth the cost.  These articles are written for their age group and are lengthy enough to challenge them without tiring them out.   If your teacher's classroom has these already but they don't have time to utilize them in class, ask if your child can bring a few home over the weekend for them to do. (if you are on good terms with your teacher you may even ask if your child can use them over the summer).
  3. Teach them the above steps on how to read for information.  Don't wait until they are in high school or college to develop this.  It is an ability that takes time and repetition to develop in order to get good at.  
  4. Have them read newspaper/magazine articles - When they are older have them read articles out of a newspaper or magazine after YOU have read the article.  Prepare 3-4 questions from the article for them to answer (who, what, where type that they can easily answer if they read it ... not looking to "trip them up").  
  5. Resist the temptation to let your kids read series novels. While these books are often popular (and most kids want to follow the group) series-novels, like "Harry Potter", are shown to be less effectual than reading non-series novels.  The reason being is simple. Series-novels do not expand our children's vocabulary as effectively and by the second book most kids can follow the writer's story without reading 100% of the text provided.  They know the characters fairly well and the author's style of writing so well that they can skip much of the written text to find out what happens in the story.  Another reason that books like Harry Potter are less effective is namely that the movie has ruined our kids need for imagination in that they no longer visualize the characters in the book as they see them.  Instead they see the characters and scenery as Hollywood has provided on the screen (and even sometimes an altered/shortened story plot).  You should try to keep them challenged by supplying them with new novels/books by different authors who have not yet had their stories retold by a movie producer.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Why MATH is important

   We all remember sitting in elementary and high school math as the teacher strains to find a purpose for us to learn things like:
  1. The Pythagorean theorem 
  2. The Quadratic equation
  3. Logarithms 
  4. Imaginary numbers
  5. Sines, Cosines, Tangents
  6. Geometric rules and axioms
  7. etc.. etc.. etc..
     For many kids, if you didn't find some fascination with numbers, you were bored to tears.   Many teachers feel you have to find a purpose for math in order to teach math.  But for many people, the math being taught only has use in teaching ... more math.  So for many kids, they say to themselves, "I'm not going to be a scientist or an engineer.   So why do I have to learn this stuff?"   They then begin to shut themselves off from learning it and their only goal is to just "get through it and graduate. 

     A while back I even heard that schools were giving into this response by providing students with a dumb-ed down version called "Every Day Math" in which math was taught with the idea that it must have a use in every day life to keep their interest.  To me this is just wrong headed for much of math has no real day-to-day usage (I dare you to find an everyday use for the imaginary number 'i') and even if it did most kids would argue that they can use their calculator on their smart phone to do most of the work anyway.

Building a better brain

     Math's importance isn't in how we apply it directly every day.  Instead, math's purpose is to simply enable teachers to teach basic logic to children and therefore, "build a better brain".   There is simply no other method given to man to do this other than math.  (the brain is the one organ in the body that has the power to fix itself)

    To illustrate this, consider going to a professional football game.  As you watch the lineman

(offense and defense) come out of their locker rooms.  Ask yourself this: "How did they get that big?".   Of course part of the answer is genetics/DNA, but a large part of it is that they spent many hours in the weight-room lifting increasingly heavier and heavier weights.   Would they have ever told their high school coach, "Coach I don't want to weight-lift.  It's boring and hard, my arms hurt when I am done and other guys can bench so much more than me. Can't we just play football instead?  I have no desire to become a professional weight-lifter.  Why do you make me do this?"    Of course not.  Every athlete knows the importance of lifting weights to build strong health muscles (even runners weight-lift a little).  Next consider this, when you see the football players come out on the field, do they carry dumbbells and barbells out on the field with them?   Are they doing curls and over-head-presses while they are standing on the sidelines?  Does the use of these barbells play ANY role in helping the team win the game by showing how much they can lift ?  Not a bit.   Yet, without a doubt, those weights helped make them a better football player.  Sure they could build muscles by pushing each other around the field during practice or doing other kinds of exercise such as: pushups, swimming, biking, heck even dance for that matter.  But none of those activities comes near to weightlifting for building large strong muscles.

    The same goes for math.  Most math (especially higher level math) has no direct use in day to day life just like those barbells have no direct use in the game of football.  But math plays an integral role in helping us think logically and rationally as opposed to emotionally.  Math is the weight-room of the logical mind in which humans must struggle to make new logical connections.  Let's look at the similarities:

For weightlifting to be effective the person must:
  1. Workout multiple days per week
  2. Do repetitive sets of a weight (not just 1 lift) 
  3. Must use different kinds of weights to work out different groups of muscles.
  4. Start with smaller weights in the beginning and increase the size of the weights over time to challenge the body to grow 

For math to be effective the student must:
  1. Attend class multiple days per week
  2. Do repetitive assignments doing the same type of problem over and over again
  3. Must learn different areas of math (basic,number theory,fractions,geometry,word problems..)
  4. Start with lower level (basic) math and move up through algebra, geometry, trig and calculus to challenge the brain to develop better logic/thinking skills.

   And just like there may be other ways to build muscle (swimming, biking, hiking, dancing etc..), so also other subjects such as history, literature, music, art can help the brain grow and develop,  but none of those methods comes close to transforming the brain in logical reasoning than math.


     Consider the first time you learned 1+1=2 ... POW! your brain made a new connection that wasn't there before.  It didn't happen by accident.  It was taught to you.  You then went on to learn 1+2 = 3 ... POW!  another connection was made and to solidify that connection you needed to do repetitive homework in which you added 1+1=2 10 times and then did the same for 1+2 then 1+3 ...      Later your teacher showed you that 2 + 2 + 2 +2 = 8  and you can come to the same answer faster by doing  2 x 4 = 8 (or 4 x 2) and now your brain was learning how to "group"  and do math faster with a new function called multiplication.    Your teacher may have even conducted in-class verbal drills in which the whole class repeated after the teach a whole table of multiplication saying: "1 times 1 is 1", "1 times 2 is 2", all the way up to "10 times 10 is 100".



But necessary.

    Have you every memorized lines for a play or a speech?   You probably practiced your lines out loud while standing in front of a mirror over and over again.   Why?  Because you knew instinctively that using more of your senses (hearing, seeing, speaking ) will enforce the memory faster and better than just reading the lines quietly to yourself in your mind.   So also math (which combines logic + memory) needs this process as well.  If I asked you "What is 5 time 4 ?"  you would probably say "20" in less than a second.  Did you calculate that by visualizing 5 rows of 4 balls and then count all the balls in your head?  No.  Instead you recalled that answer from your second or third grade math class in which you learned 5x4=20.  This memory allows your brain to concentrate of higher concepts and not get bogged down counting "balls".  This memory work also paved the way for your brain to memorize other concepts down the road such as how to add or multiply fractions or do long division or find the length of a hypotenuse (or even recall what a hypotenuse is).   
Efficient way to try out ideas

  But math does more than just give us a platform to add, subtract, multiply and divide numbers.   It allows us to rationally think out the future without it actually happening and in the end it saves time, money and energy.   I don't need to buy a whole roll of carpet if I don't need to.   I don't need to try 1000 different methods to see which one works, I can test them mathematically.  Thomas Edison (the inventor of the light bulb) is often used as an example of how hard work and perseverance can pay off.   When looking for a filament for his light bulb he tried over 1000 different things (including human hair) and nothing worked until he came across carbon thread.  While his method did eventually find a solution, it was very wasteful and many of life's problems are way too complex for this kind of tinkering. Just imagine NASA using Edison's approach to send a man to the moon.  I don't think they would have found anyone willing to be the first astronaut (ie guinea pig) to try it out.  A person's math ability allows them to think ahead to a future that doesn't exist yet and to create a pathway to get there for others to follow.

Solve day to day problems in our jobs

    Studies have shown that people who were competent in math make more money regardless of their career path than those who did poorly in math.   This isn't because they can add 11+15 faster than anyone in their office or because they were able to solve a quadratic equation in a meeting when no one else could (that only happens in the movies).   The reason is simply because they were able to think logically and find solutions to problems that give them an advantage over other competitors.   Take for example, UPS.  A truck driver in UPS found that he used less gas and got his routes done FASTER by only taking right-hand-turns.  Because of this he never got stuck waiting for a left-turn light (3 rights = 1 left) which happen less often and for shorter periods of time than straight-ahead lights.  His logic was then deployed across all of their UPS drivers (their GPS system even now uses it when selecting a route) and they were able to save time and gas.   That driver didn't know it, but he owed his good idea to some math teachers he had along the way when he was younger.

Create a society of  "free thinkers" 

     Finally, beyond earning a living, math makes for a better world and better citizens by enabling them to "think for themselves" rather than others to do the thinking for them.  A society cannot be free unless all of its citizens are first able to think for themselves and make their own decisions.

Take for example the following question:  

                                        "Is healthcare a right(A) or a privilege(B) ?"

      Right now your brain is calculating the answer to that social problem.   You may have considered "B" but that sounds like you are an elitist and don't care about the poor.   But "A" has implications of me needing to provide it to others for "free" which you know is not entirely possible.   But A is less elitist than B and may lead to less arguing or name-calling. etc etc etc.    But the REAL answer to the question is "C" -- none of the above.    "Wait a minute!" you say, "You didn't give C as an option.  You just made that up!".   But in reality, I didn't.  It was there all the time.   To illustrate this let's change the question to something less controversial :

                               "What is your favorite animal: cats (A) or dogs (B) ?"  

Here is a Venn-diagram illustrating the choice.

Notice the "yellow" area?  That represents everything that is NOT "cats" or "dogs".   In mathematics its referred to as the "universe" and constitutes everything outside of the 2 choices.   It's always there in every circumstance.   Yet many never see it.  Questions posed about things like healthcare are meant to corner people into making only one choice.  In this case A.   This is the choice the questioner wants you to make so they can manipulate you into thinking like them rather than think for yourself and choose "C" as your answer (such as, "It's a PRODUCT you either want or you don't want.  It's up to the individual.  Maybe they think they don't need it.  Maybe they want to take care of themselves").  Math, therefore,  helps create a world of "free thinkers" who don't allow themselves to be boxed in by others and their view of the world.

    These are the reasons every child (and adult) needs to learn math regardless of their future employment.  For by doing so, we can remain a free, efficient and rationally thinking society that can find the answers to the everyday problems it faces.