Origins of conflict

I just became a new father and a friend of mine recommended I read the book "Brain Rules for Baby" by developmental molecular biologist John Medina. Parenting tips I expected. Underlying psychological phenomenon that is the basis of universal human conflict? Not so much. Medina writes:

People view their own behaviors as originating from situations beyond their control, but they view other people's behaviors as originating from inherent personality traits. Say a guy arrives late for a date. He is likely to ascribe his tardiness to external factors (being caught in traffic). She is likely to ascribe his tardiness to being a careless person (not taking traffic into account). One invokes a situational constraint to explain being late. The other invokes an insult. 

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Alone in our skulls, we have privileged access... providing detailed knowledge of our psychological interiors, motivations, and intentions. Formally called introspection, we know what we intend to mean or to communicate on a minute-to-minute basis. The problem is, nobody else does. Other people can't read our minds. The only information others have about our interior states and our motives is what our words say and how our faces and bodies appear. This is formally called extrospection.

We are amazingly blind to the limits of extrospective information. We know when our actions fail to match our inner thoughts and feelings, but we often forget that this knowledge is not available to others. This disparity can leave us bewildered or surprised at how we come across to other people. As poet Robert Burns wrote, "Oh that God the gift would give us / to see ourselves as others see us."

Most conflicts do arise out of this kind of asymmetry, but that's why being aware of this phenomenon is super valuable. There are probably all sorts of introspective-extrospective asymmetries in all of our lives right now that we aren't considering. And that lack of awareness is the default state. 

Which reminds me of David Foster Wallace's "This is Water" graduation speech (PDF here) where he says:

Look, if I choose to think this way, fine, lots of us do — except that thinking this way tends to be so easy and automatic it doesn't have to be a choice. Thinking this way is my natural default-setting. It's the automatic, unconscious way that I experience the boring, frustrating, crowded parts of adult life when I'm operating on the automatic, unconscious belief that I am the center of the world and that my immediate needs and feelings are what should determine the world's priorities.

We experience life in such a way that one particular perspective, our own, is all-encompassing. Mel Brooks put it best: "Tragedy is when I cut my finger. Comedy is when you fall into an open sewer and die."

What if we didn't live that way? Could such a world even exist? We can try.

Drucker on the economics of information in 1998— true then, true today

I quoted this on my personal homepage in 1999

'Current economics is merely refining the obsolete. Economic theory is still based on the scarcity axiom, which doesn't apply to information. When I sell you a phone, I no longer have it. When I sell information to you, I have more information by the very fact that you have it and I know you have it. That's not even true of money.' 

—Peter Drucker, Wired 6.03 March 1998

Montage of Heck - Meeting Kurt Cobain in his own home movies

Like a lot of people our generation, I grew up listening to Nirvana. In Utero was on repeat on my Walkman, and I still can lip sync the words whenever I hear it. But the rock star and the man were different things, and tonight's HBO premiere of the Cobain documentary "Montage of Heck" made the man that much more real. 

Instead than rockumentary or myth-making, most of the film is Kurt Cobain's own journal writing, art, and of course music, both released and unreleased. The home videos are the most compelling — a true window to his life. You do feel like you're spying on private moments, Kurt growing up, and his life with Courtney Love and their daughter Frances Bean. 

Any Nirvana fan would love this documentary. It's not easy to watch, but important if you, like me, felt like you were given a voice by the music. Thanks Kurdt. 

Ross Ulbricht's private journals released: Self-doubt, first steps, tribulations

Here's an excerpt of what Ross Ulbricht wrote years ago about starting Silk Road from Ars Technica:

I was calling it Underground Brokers, but eventually settled on Silk Road. The idea was to create a website where people could buy anything anonymously, with no trail whatsoever that could lead back to them. I had been studying the technology for a while, but needed a business model and strategy. I finally decided that I would produce mushrooms so that I could list them on the site for cheap to get people interested. I worked my ass off setting up a lab in a cabin out near Bastrop off the grid. In hindsight, this was a terrible idea and I would never repeat it, but I did it and produced several kilos of high quality shrooms. On the website side, I was struggling to figure out on my own how to set it up. Driving out to Bastrop, working on Good Wagon, and trying to keep up my relationship with Julia was taking all of my time. By the end of the year, I still didn’t have a site up, let alone a server.

I went through a lot over the year in my personal relationships as well. I had mostly shut myself off from people because I felt ashamed of where my life was. I had left my promising career as a scientist to be an investment adviser and entrepreneur and came up empty handed. More and more my emotions and thoughts were ruling my life and my word was losing power. At some point I finally broke down and realized my love for people again, and started reaching out. Throughout the year I slowly re-cultivated my relationship with my word and started honoring it again.

My relationship with Julia was pretty rocky throughout the year. We even broke up for about a month and half toward the end. I couldn’t even tell you now why it was a struggle, or why we broke up. On my side, I wasn’t communicating well at all. I would let little things build up until I got mad. We eventually got back together and even moved in together, and it has been amazingly good since.

In 2011, I am creating a year of prosperity and power beyond what I have ever experienced before. Silk Road is going to become a phenomenon and at least one person will tell me about it, unknowing that I was its creator. 

The full article is fascinating and worth the read.

The place between grey hat and white hat SEO: being wrong on purpose

There's three types of SEO. White Hat is playing within Google's rules. Black Hat is playing outside of them (think comment bots that drop links). Grey Hat is the space inbetween. "The Gawker" strategy lies somewhere between White Hat and Grey Hat.

The linkbuilding strategy called "the Gawker," is where you hire someone known for choosing unpopular positions and trolling/being unable to take criticism. That person creates a shitstorm by saying something incredibly stupid and stubbornly sticking to it. This prompts everyone to talk about how irrational they are and generates a lot of controversy. You get a lot of links to your site during the controversy. Later, you fire this person to save face.

One of the biggest rules of posting anything on the tubes is "Don't be wrong on the Internet" because everyone HAS to correct you, this strategy relies on using that that rule to your advantage. Post something absurdly dumb in a random reddit comment page, and a dozen people will feel the need to correct you, and all you are is an anonymous person on the internet. When a media entity - especially a generally respected one - posts something absurd, other media entities feel the obligation to correct them. Since their readers are probably unaware of the other media entity's wrong-headed entry, the other media company links to it. As mentioned earlier, a link from a domain that has lots of links is worth many, many times more than a link from a less endowed website.

Left unchecked, this will continue to grow as a serious problem in modern media. 

Elon Musk AMA wisdom — On knowledge and learning

Elon Musk on knowledge and learning via Reddit AMA

I think most people can learn a lot more than they think they can. They sell themselves short without trying.

One bit of advice: it is important to view knowledge as sort of a semantic tree -- make sure you understand the fundamental principles, ie the trunk and big branches, before you get into the leaves/details or there is nothing for them to hang on to.

The end of gangs — policing, culture, or leaded gasoline?

Pacific Standard magazine penned a long form piece on the success of better policing against gangs in Los Angeles. Cops started using statistics (CompStat), community policing, bans on congregating in public (no street slinging) and federal RICO statutes to take down entire neighborhood gangs, while gentrification changed the demographics of the neighborhoods. 

But others are speculating it is the end of the use of leaded gas in automobiles that directly caused a plunge in crime:

It might also be culture and the Internet. A redditor writes:

Gangs are cultural social groups. They thrive on regional and ethnic pockets of culture. All culture has become globalized and somewhat diffused. Especially "urban" culture. Regional urban culture in America used to be really clearly pronounced from state to state. For example, young people in poor neighborhoods in Compton didn't dress like kids in Miami hoods. Rappers in NY didn't sound like rappers in the Bay Area. Nowadays the internet has connected the world, and so young people are no longer isolated into regional cultures. Poor kids in California wear the same fashions as kids in Kansas city now. The new generation of rappers are almost impossible to identify by state or region. A$AP Rocky and Tyler the Creator and Drake have no regional style whatsoever, because they grew up with no regional cultural limitations. They are global.

This is a big part of what's happened to gangs, IMO. The youth have no more regional pockets of culture for gangs to live and breath.

In any case, the streets are safer, and that's something for which Los Angeles can be thankful.

Hat tip HN

The Detail - an indie adventure game worth playing

There's this tiny game studio that released a very playable point-and-click adventure game, and I played through it just now. Put simply, the game is HBO's The Wire in old school PC adventure game format. It's about than an hour of story and action but a very enjoyable one with real suspense. They've stripped down the mechanics of a typical point-and-click to just that which will progress the plot, which makes the whole mechanism quite streamlined and cuts back on the hunt-and-click aspect of these games. They've managed to really generate palpable tension in this storyline. You're never sure if your character will make it through, and your actions feel like they have weight. 

The game was created by a small team in Finland, and it looks like they were recently greenlit on Steam. They've released episode 1 of 5, and as a fan of these kinds of games I do hope this studio keeps going and brings the whole series to fruition. This thing is compelling, so if you've got a PC, check it out on Steam

I love seeing people create something new, and this is one game that deserves to have a bigger audience.

Generational shift: Millennials buy smartphones, not cars

Cars, unending tract homes, and cul-de-sacs are all ways of the past that are fading out. People want to live in more urban centers with rich public transit options, like the above futuristic vision of Urban Alloy Towers in would-be Queens, NY. 

The Atlantic Monthly expanded on this recently in The Cheapest Generation:

Smartphones compete against cars for young people’s big-ticket dollars, since the cost of a good phone and data plan can exceed $1,000 a year. But they also provide some of the same psychic benefits—opening new vistas and carrying us far from the physical space in which we reside. “You no longer need to feel connected to your friends with a car when you have this technology that’s so ubiquitous, it transcends time and space,” Connelly said.

In other words, mobile technology has empowered more than just car-sharing. It has empowered friendships that can be maintained from a distance. The upshot could be a continuing shift from automobiles to mobile technology, and a big reduction in spending.

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The old cul-de-sacs of Revolutionary Road and Desperate Housewives have fallen out of favor with Generation Y. Rising instead are both city centers and what some developers call “urban light”—denser suburbs that revolve around a walkable town center. “People are very eager to create a life that blends the best features of the American suburb—schools still being the primary, although not the only, draw—and urbanity,” says Adam Ducker, a managing director at the real-estate consultancy RCLCO.

And why buy a car and have it sit for 23 hours a day when you can get a car via Zipcar or Uber on demand via smartphone? 

This makes me hopeful for the future of cities as the younger generations surge into voters and key positions of power in government.