10 October 2011

Who Ya Gonna Call?

My result of an experiment I did while being the custodian of Modern Vintage with my awesome family (for other members of my awesome family, who were in China). There is supposedly a young boy ghost in the building who plays with these toy cars.
My experiment basically consisted of leaving two cars on the floor, and waiting to see what happened.
Here are the photos I took of my experiment over the course of three weeks:
Original orientation
Week 2, *gasp* one car has moved slightly!
Week 3, if a ghost plays with these toys, he has a limited imagination.
Preliminary conclusion: reality is real, magical beings aren't.

Out with the old license, in with the new...

Well it has been the standard however many years, when VicRoads starts to worry that I might not properly match my old license photo, and order up a new one.
I remember my old license photo day fondly, because my mum had to organise the appointment (due to my slackness), and drove me in at 9am in the morning, on my birthday of all times.
I did not want to be up early on my birthday, especially in my uni days when I rarely saw the morning hours for four of the seven days of the week. But there i was, unshaven, unkempt and uninterested (mum previously had to drag me to VicRoads to make me get my L's a year after most of my mates had).
I don't think I have changed much, perhaps as a reflection of my uni days versus my working life you can see the slightly dazed look being replaced by a somewhat frustrated glare. The black hoodie is replaced by a black work jumper; my wardrobe isn't that extensive in colour or style (this way I can just chuck on any helter skelter combination).
But the glasses are the same, the facial hair is un-manscaped; I still have eyebrows, and maintain the usual, eyes then nose then mouth order of facial features
I will always admire the passionate Austrian Pastafarian who fought for his right to wear his religious headgear in his license photo; in this case it was embodied in the form of a colander (that was of course, after he had passed a doctor's certificate that he was "psychologically fit" to drive).
This license expires in 2014; I will be 30 years old, and my son 8 (my wife a spritely 28). If by the power of the gods I have kept this blog alive, I will keep you updated.

06 October 2011

On Anapodotons

My previous post on the phrase “When the going gets tough, the tough get going” got me thinking; when does a saying get so engrained in popular society that we are able to cut off the ‘punchline’ and still get our point across?
You see it all the time; we shorten “When in Rome, do as the Romans do” to a simple “When in Rome..”. I think this one makes sense, as generally it is a prelude to an act preformed as the ‘Romans’ (whoever they might be in this case) would do it.
You’re holding on to a cooked and skewered insect in a Chinese market, and before you pluck up the courage to pop it in your mouth and munch on the tasty exoskeleton, you give the somewhat tentative remark “When in Rome”, then pop it in. Crunch!
It makes sense; if only for dramatic effect.
It can create confusion however, as if we don’t know the origins of the saying, we can’t always apply it correctly; hence the difficulties of a certain Mr Ron Burgundy.
A quick foray into Wikipedia informs me that, as is always the case, there is a name for this kind of thing:
anapodoton [noun] (uncountable)
  1. (uncountable, rhetoric) The rhetorical device in which a main clause is implied by a subordinate clause, without mention.
Other examples include: if looks could kill [I’d be a dead man]; if pigs had wings [they could fly]; if the hat fits [wear it]; if the mountain won't come to Muhammad [the mountain shall come to Muhammad]; if the shoe fits [wear it]; when the cat's away [the mice will play]; and where there is a will [there’s a way].

Sometimes we even omit the first part of a saying, like how the often confused saying “If that’s what they think, they have another think coming” is shortened to simply “they have another think coming”. Though more often than not, people think the saying is actually “another thing coming”, because they haven’t learnt it through a shortening of the original saying, but rather some cultural form of Chinese whispers.

It makes me wonder: are there any other sayings out there ripe for anapodotonisation?

Remembering Steve Jobs

Steve Jobs has died.
Unfortunately I don’t feel at all qualified to write any form of eulogy on the great man, and I wouldn’t want to give it a try, only to find the resultant piece lacking the gravitas that the man is worthy of.
Instead I would like to share a famous speech he made about some lessons he learned in his life, and how he views things in general. It really is a great read, full of wonderful advice, and I think it gives a great picture of the man.

[Note: I saved this text years back, so I can’t remember the source, but it is out there, circa 2005 I think]



Thank you. I'm honored to be with you today for your commencement from one of the finest universities in the world. Truth be told, I never graduated from college and this is the closest I've ever gotten to a college graduation.
Today I want to tell you three stories from my life. That's it. No big deal. Just three stories. The first story is about connecting the dots.
I dropped out of Reed College after the first six months but then stayed around as a drop-in for another eighteen months or so before I really quit. So why did I drop out? It started before I was born. My biological mother was a young, unwed graduate student, and she decided to put me up for adoption. She felt very strongly that I should be adopted by college graduates, so everything was all set for me to be adopted at birth by a lawyer and his wife, except that when I popped out, they decided at the last minute that they really wanted a girl. So my parents, who were on a waiting list, got a call in the middle of the night asking, "We've got an unexpected baby boy. Do you want him?" They said, "Of course." My biological mother found out later that my mother had never graduated from college and that my father had never graduated from high school. She refused to sign the final adoption papers. She only relented a few months later when my parents promised that I would go to college.
This was the start in my life. And seventeen years later, I did go to college, but I naïvely chose a college that was almost as expensive as Stanford, and all of my working-class parents' savings were being spent on my college tuition. After six months, I couldn't see the value in it. I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life, and no idea of how college was going to help me figure it out, and here I was, spending all the money my parents had saved their entire life. So I decided to drop out and trust that it would all work out OK. It was pretty scary at the time, but looking back, it was one of the best decisions I ever made. The minute I dropped out, I could stop taking the required classes that didn't interest me and begin dropping in on the ones that looked far more interesting.
It wasn't all romantic. I didn't have a dorm room, so I slept on the floor in friends' rooms. I returned Coke bottles for the five-cent deposits to buy food with, and I would walk the seven miles across town every Sunday night to get one good meal a week at the Hare Krishna temple. I loved it. And much of what I stumbled into by following my curiosity and intuition turned out to be priceless later on. Let me give you one example.
Reed College at that time offered perhaps the best calligraphy instruction in the country. Throughout the campus every poster, every label on every drawer was beautifully hand-calligraphed. Because I had dropped out and didn't have to take the normal classes, I decided to take a calligraphy class to learn how to do this. I learned about serif and sans-serif typefaces, about varying the amount of space between different letter combinations, about what makes great typography great. It was beautiful, historical, artistically subtle in a way that science can't capture, and I found it fascinating.
None of this had even a hope of any practical application in my life. But ten years later when we were designing the first Macintosh computer, it all came back to me, and we designed it all into the Mac. It was the first computer with beautiful typography. If I had never dropped in on that single course in college, the Mac would have never had multiple typefaces or proportionally spaced fonts, and since Windows just copied the Mac, it's likely that no personal computer would have them.
If I had never dropped out, I would have never dropped in on that calligraphy class and personals computers might not have the wonderful typography that they do.
Of course it was impossible to connect the dots looking forward when I was in college, but it was very, very clear looking backwards 10 years later. Again, you can't connect the dots looking forward. You can only connect them looking backwards, so you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something--your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever--because believing that the dots will connect down the road will give you the confidence to follow your heart, even when it leads you off the well-worn path, and that will make all the difference.
My second story is about love and loss. I was lucky. I found what I loved to do early in life. Woz and I started Apple in my parents' garage when I was twenty. We worked hard and in ten years, Apple had grown from just the two of us in a garage into a $2 billion company with over 4,000 employees. We'd just released our finest creation, the Macintosh, a year earlier, and I'd just turned thirty, and then I got fired. How can you get fired from a company you started? Well, as Apple grew, we hired someone who I thought was very talented to run the company with me, and for the first year or so, things went well. But then our visions of the future began to diverge, and eventually we had a falling out. When we did, our board of directors sided with him, and so at thirty, I was out, and very publicly out. What had been the focus of my entire adult life was gone, and it was devastating. I really didn't know what to do for a few months. I felt that I had let the previous generation of entrepreneurs down, that I had dropped the baton as it was being passed to me. I met with David Packard and Bob Noyce and tried to apologize for screwing up so badly. I was a very public failure and I even thought about running away from the Valley. But something slowly began to dawn on me. I still loved what I did. The turn of events at Apple had not changed that one bit. I'd been rejected but I was still in love. And so I decided to start over.
I didn't see it then, but it turned out that getting fired from Apple was the best thing that could have ever happened to me. The heaviness of being successful was replaced by the lightness of being a beginner again, less sure about everything. It freed me to enter one of the most creative periods in my life. During the next five years I started a company named NeXT, another company named Pixar and fell in love with an amazing woman who would become my wife. Pixar went on to create the world's first computer-animated feature film, "Toy Story," and is now the most successful animation studio in the world.
In a remarkable turn of events, Apple bought NeXT and I returned to Apple and the technology we developed at NeXT is at the heart of Apple's current renaissance, and Lorene and I have a wonderful family together.
I'm pretty sure none of this would have happened if I hadn't been fired from Apple. It was awful-tasting medicine but I guess the patient needed it. Sometimes life's going to hit you in the head with a brick. Don't lose faith. I'm convinced that the only thing that kept me going was that I loved what I did. You've got to find what you love, and that is as true for work as it is for your lovers. Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work, and the only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven't found it yet, keep looking, and don't settle. As with all matters of the heart, you'll know when you find it, and like any great relationship it just gets better and better as the years roll on. So keep looking. Don't settle.
My third story is about death. When I was 17 I read a quote that went something like "If you live each day as if it was your last, someday you'll most certainly be right." It made an impression on me, and since then, for the past 33 years, I have looked in the mirror every morning and asked myself, "If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today?" And whenever the answer has been "no" for too many days in a row, I know I need to change something. Remembering that I'll be dead soon is the most important thing I've ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life, because almost everything--all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure--these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important. Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart.
About a year ago, I was diagnosed with cancer. I had a scan at 7:30 in the morning and it clearly showed a tumor on my pancreas. I didn't even know what a pancreas was. The doctors told me this was almost certainly a type of cancer that is incurable, and that I should expect to live no longer than three to six months. My doctor advised me to go home and get my affairs in order, which is doctors' code for "prepare to die." It means to try and tell your kids everything you thought you'd have the next ten years to tell them, in just a few months. It means to make sure that everything is buttoned up so that it will be as easy as possible for your family. It means to say your goodbyes.
I lived with that diagnosis all day. Later that evening I had a biopsy where they stuck an endoscope down my throat, through my stomach into my intestines, put a needle into my pancreas and got a few cells from the tumor. I was sedated but my wife, who was there, told me that when they viewed the cells under a microscope, the doctor started crying, because it turned out to be a very rare form of pancreatic cancer that is curable with surgery. I had the surgery and, thankfully, I am fine now.
This was the closest I've been to facing death, and I hope it's the closest I get for a few more decades. Having lived through it, I can now say this to you with a bit more certainty than when death was a useful but purely intellectual concept. No one wants to die, even people who want to go to Heaven don't want to die to get there, and yet, death is the destination we all share. No one has ever escaped it. And that is as it should be, because death is very likely the single best invention of life. It's life's change agent; it clears out the old to make way for the new. right now, the new is you. But someday, not too long from now, you will gradually become the old and be cleared away. Sorry to be so dramatic, but it's quite true. Your time is limited, so don't waste it living someone else's life. Don't be trapped by dogma, which is living with the results of other people's thinking. Don't let the noise of others' opinions drown out your own inner voice, heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.
When I was young, there was an amazing publication called The Whole Earth Catalogue, which was one of the bibles of my generation. It was created by a fellow named Stuart Brand not far from here in Menlo Park, and he brought it to life with his poetic touch. This was in the late Sixties, before personal computers and desktop publishing, so it was all made with typewriters, scissors, and Polaroid cameras. it was sort of like Google in paperback form thirty-five years before Google came along. I was idealistic, overflowing with neat tools and great notions. Stuart and his team put out several issues of the The Whole Earth Catalogue, and then when it had run its course, they put out a final issue. It was the mid-Seventies and I was your age. On the back cover of their final issue was a photograph of an early morning country road, the kind you might find yourself hitchhiking on if you were so adventurous. Beneath were the words, "Stay hungry, stay foolish." It was their farewell message as they signed off. "Stay hungry, stay foolish." And I have always wished that for myself, and now, as you graduate to begin anew, I wish that for you. Stay hungry, stay foolish.
Thank you all, very much.

 - Steve Jobs

When the going gets tough....... What happens again?

During one of my work induced zone outs, I became befuddled at the meaning of this old saying: "When the going gets tough, the tough get going".
What was the going they were speaking of? The ability to retreat? And where do the tough go?
And what does this guy have to do with it?
My rough translation started out as "When it becomes hard to leave, the strong people retreat”, which I quickly dismissed, as that saying would seem rather pointless, and somewhat capitulatory.
Luckily my wife understands language better than me (or should I say I?), and set me straight. It’s not a saying that tells you to cut and run while the opportunity still presents itself (perhaps the saying I had in mind was ‘get while the getting’s good’), but rather a more uplifting saying about true toughness being a resilience which makes itself know during hard times.
Using the Wikipedia entry I was able to mash it into a more direct statement, ignoring those ambiguous terms that make it such a pithy saying, but also a potentially ambiguous one. In the end I had this one:
“When the situation becomes difficult, people who are strong or enduring become fully engaged”
Not as catchy as the original, but at least it is direct.

Interesting sidenote here: one possible origin for this saying goes back to Joseph P. Kennedy, father of JFK. One gets the feeling that if he had been assassinated we might be referring to him as the three lettered JPK, like we call his sons JFK and RFK; instead I remember him as a possible anti-Semite……

04 October 2011

Delving into the Custom Dictionary

During one of the more boring moments at work I was writing up a word document when a squiggly little red line informed me that it had little to no idea what I was trying to say (I was saying ‘Guinnessland’ that particular time, so I'm not surprised). But as I am wont to do, I added the word to my custom dictionary, and kept on writing my emails. Then as the work died down, and my propensity for procrastination took over, it got me thinking.
I use my personal dictionary a lot. Of late I have even been entering in misspelt word just for the heck of it; whether this is latent mischievousness laid out for the unwitting persons who inherit my computer, or if I just find it quicker to skip some corrections in a spell check, I don’t know. But the fact remains; I was bored and thinking of my custom dictionary. I decided to track it down, and after a quick windows search, had the small text file in my virtual hands.
It contained 507 entries, many of which were the standard and expected values, however there were a bunch of quirky, or random entries that really got me thinking. As I read further I began organising them in my head, and was amused to see how a small picture of the person I am could be built out of such a thing. So for my own amusement, and now perhaps dear reader for your own curiosity, I have compiled a few interesting examples below.

As a highlight of my dislike in giving predictions of when I will do things I have added 4ish, 5ish, and Soonish

There are the expected references to new companies, websites or programs which enter the cultural zeitgeist a bit quicker than Microsoft Word can follow, such as BitTorrent, facebook, Gizmodo, GoodReader, Lifehacker (Note there is not mention of tweet or twitter as they are their own words already); not to mention new products weaselling their way into my lexicon like the ubiquitous iPad and iPhone.

There are the ones I just have plain no idea why I added them (though I imagine it was the same source of much of my office ‘work’; boredom), the prime example being Alakfhlahvfoisg.

Word is never good at picking up any onomatopoeia in writing, especially those with an undefined length, so I did my best to cover some random ones, such as:
Hmmmm, Hmmmmm, Hmmmmmm, Hmmmmmmm, Mmmmmm, Mmmmmmm, Numnumnumnum, Ummm, wooo, Wooo, Urgh, Booyah
(Note the capital ‘Wooo’ appears distinct from the lowercase ‘wooo”. This must have been important at some time)

There were things that I have since had to look up again to understand why I added them, like Haufniensis, a pseudonym used by Søren Kierkegaard in writing some of his philosophical works. Or Centaurus, a group of stars which for some reason warranted not only their conclusion in something I was writing, but the added safety of including their spelling in future missives. And even ones like parsimology, which though it sounds awfully important, I'm still not quite sure what it is.

I mentioned the odd movie, TV show, or character, which found its way to the mathewonary including Borat, Caddyshack, Dragonball, Hellboy, and Rainman
(Note: mathewonary is now also in the mathewonary; so it is a self-referential beast now)

Some obscure technical words like Necrocracy, Correlogram, Eigenvalues and Compatibilism came in usually from me doing a bit of homework in my spare time. Or some less than technical words snuck in, including weeing or Thingie. Not to mention the almost oxymoronic Thinkability.

A bunch of words I made up by a quick addition or extrapolation also found their way in, under a heading which itself also comes from the list; Mathewisms like Guinnessland or Liztastic.

There was also a lot of slang, or jargon (is that the right usage of the word? I highly doubt it), or generally just words I apparently use a lot but aren’t quite proper English, like Gotta, Idiotish, Indeedy, killin, nerding, or problemo.
(Note: the ‘killin’ entry shouldn’t be cause for concern; it combines with the ‘nerding’ term, in the sense that I am sometimes ‘nerding it up doing some killin on the xbox’.)

Sometimes words just need that extra bit of emphasis, as evidenced buy the inclusion of Cooooooooool and neeeeeeed in my custom lexicon.

Peoples names inevitably found their way in, whether they be famous individuals which shed some light on those I may admire (Dawkins, Gervais, Hitchens), parents and friends (Harley, Hutchy, Harrison (the number of times Word suggested I meant to call my son ‘Garrison’ seemed to turn into an insult)) or even my own name, which everyone in the world constantly suggests to me is missing that superfluous extra 't' (Mathew).

Then there were the oddballs. Like the twitter tag GamerDadLikes, the adjective that most people would like to avoid (Hitleresque), the worrying inclusion of the verb Sweatingly, the Orwellian Thoughtcrimes, or the just plain strange presence of the suspect profession; xenobiologist.

And thus ends the strange expedition into my custom dictionary.
Thanks for stopping by.

03 October 2011

Bhutan and its Quest for Gross Domestic Happiness

Bhutan sounds like quite a nice little country. Nestled away in Central Asia, just east of Nepal, it is a place steeped in a kind of mystical quality; some sort of cultural permanence whereby it seems to us to be separate from the world in its society, its culture, and in its way of functioning. Indeed it has often been referred to as The Last Shangri-la, and is a magnet for people interested in experiencing it’s heavily Buddhist influenced culture.
They also drive on the left side of the road.
Looking in to travelling there you might notice the exorbitant costs levied by its government ($200USD a day in order to stay there!), and think it a negative signal of the government within; perhaps they are prone to extortion, or trying to hold back the world from its people, a la the communist strongholds of last century.
However looking into it further, you will find this is far from the truth.
The disincentives for tourists to visit the country are put in place for the happiness of its people, not simply for their isolation. An influx of tourists would potentially damage not only the environment of the diminutive country, but also its cultural integrity (or at least so says the government). Granted though this might sound like any authoritarian governments excuse, other evidence on the matter points to a more cordial answer, as the government’s commitment to happiness is more than a mere catchphrase.
The Bhutanese government’s dedication to the pursuit of happiness for its population is evident when you look at their recent actions.
Not content with simply making the pursuit of happiness a right as it is in the United States; something to be taken up by the individual, and protected by the government. The Bhutanese government actively sets about increasing the happiness of its people, and making their happiness an essential part of governing.
Indeed they were recently the initiating force in getting the pursuit for happiness recognised as an international human right, and are the only country on earth which actively tries to measure the happiness of its population in any meaningful sense (though how possible this is, is up for debate).

Now I know what you may be thinking; don’t all governments seek to increase the happiness of their populous?
And in a sense you are right, but what sets Bhutan apart from the rest is how willing they are to take a right which may or may not be exercised by it citizens, and turn it into a right which is to be not only facilitated by the government, but also encouraged.
You see governments like ours work for the happiness of its citizens in a roundabout, or indirect way. We ensure that business owners can run their businesses in a profitable way, and be protected from (apparent) threats from abroad. We keep workers safe from injustice in the workplace be ensuring employers adhere to regulations. We provide people with services in any number of ways to ensure that they can maintain healthy, safe and prosperous lives. But at the heart of these initiatives there is rarely a desire for increasing the overall happiness as an overt goal.
In a sense Bhutan’s government has put in place measures to protect its citizen’s happiness in much the same way that other countries seek to protect their environment.
Bhutan’s government has a checkpoint through which any budding policies must pass, where its impact on the gross domestic happiness is analysed, and should it be found to threaten this, the panel has the authority to strike it down, and send it back for adjustment. This is done in the form of Gross National Happiness impact statement, much like the Environmental Impact Statements that accompany major development works in our country.
The countries current Prime Minister Jigme Y Thinley is a driving force in this push for happiness being a goal of the government. If you are sceptical of his conviction, just take a look at him leading a National Happiness Commission procession in the photo below (hint: he is the one sporting the massive grin).
He recently spoke at the opening of a conference hosted in the Himalayan kingdom specifically convened to discuss "Economic Development and Happiness". Indeed the Prime Minister organised the global conference which was co-hosted by Jeffrey Sachs, Director of The Earth Institute at Columbia University and Special Adviser to United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon; and indication that this conference wasn’t just for show.

All this being said of course, there are downsides to this kind of governing. For instance, other countries don’t necessarily have statements about how to pursue the gross national happiness of their populations because happiness is such a subjective term. What makes me happy might, if forced upon you, make you unhappy. Indeed the bigger the country, the harder it is to for such a cohesive statement of national preference. In the small kingdom of Bhutan it is a bit easier, specifically when the government’s determination of happiness factors relies heavily on the shared culture of the Buddhist constituents.
However that in itself causes another, more sinister problem.
Take for instance the late 1980s and early 1990s, when the country expelled nearly one fifth of its population in the name of preserving its Tibetan Mahayana Buddhist culture and identity; something which it sees as intrinsic to its happiness. One wonders here if the overall happiness of the country being increased at the expense of a minority is worth it. In fact, one shouldn’t have to wonder; it should be perfectly clear.

In another instance, Bhutan was one of the last countries to introduce television to its constituents, with the ban on television and the Internet only being lifted in 1999. This was again in part due to the worries that the influence of these factors on the population could put Bhutan’s traditional cultural aspects at risk.
Though in this case the weighing up of the potential benefits for the overall happiness of the population, versus the possible unhappiness caused by a cultures adaptation to new influences, resulted in a win for the introduction of these influences. This placed of the nation’s growth as a happier independent country above that of the mere stagnant enforcement of previous cultural norms, which always seems a good sign to me that the government is still working for the people, not simply ruling over them.

Last year Bhutan became the only country to ban the sale of tobacco within its borders. Citizens are welcome to buy it in neighbouring India, and can smoke in public; however they must carry their receipts with them, or else risk running afoul with the law. This move was seen as being overall beneficial for the gross Domestic Happiness of Bhutan, even though it may be at the expense of the overall Gross Domestic Product of the Bhutanese. Whether or not you agree with the rationale behind banning tobacco sales, it is still interesting to see a government which bases its arguments partly around impacts on happiness, and not just on the wallet.

But it is all well and good to speak of these things in theory. The true test of Bhutan’s quest for Gross National Happiness maximisation is written in the fuzzy hand of statistics.
A study by Adrian G. White of the University of Leicester titled "A Global Projection of Subjective Well-being: A Challenge to Positive Psychology?" sought to rank the different nations of the world using the common metric of Subjective Well-Being. Out of the 178 countries analysed, Bhutan took the number eight spot on the list, and was the highest of all Asian countries. This is no small feat considering out of the top twenty countries, it was the only one with a significantly low Gross Domestic Product (with a GDP per capita of only $1,978).

So while I am not putting this form of governing forward as a panacea for all our trouble, I still think it is an interesting thing to see in practice.