Mathematics, psychology and sociology, philosophy.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

It's Milktaculous

2010 March 2nd

The milk industry seems to enjoy having fun with their advertising campaigns. A brother from my college fraternity wrote:
Subject: Drink More Milk, brought to you by Canada

What's up with the crazy Vancouver dairy people?

As milk advertising goes, the above is very tame. I responded:

I see your milk stop frame animation short, and raise you a campy retro rock opera featurette.

The Battle for Milkquarious

The Battle for Milkquarious, by the California Milk Processing Board. Hosted by Creativity Online.

All-student version released after the end of the contest.

(In the contest, California high-school students submitted videos, with several prizes of grants to school arts programs.)

My frat brother friend replied:

I bow before your rock opera.     Remind me why I don't write musicals again? Oh yes, something about "copious spare time"...

And bow you should — it's nothing less than milktaculous.


I happen to be a lifetime fan of cows and all things dairy, provided that it's not too bitter or sour (why did anyone ever start making cream go sour on purpose?!?!?) and tend to think the politics of anti-dairy zealots are blown rather far out of proportion: Smoking is bad for you, and so is an excess of fat, salt, or sugar — but there are people I know who'd rather whine about the advantages of goat milk over cow milk. These aren't people with a medical issue, they just want to be anti-establishment.

Friday, March 12, 2010

What is Commitment?

2010 March 11th

I was recently asked for my opinions on the following questions:
What is a commitment? Why make them? What is important to do/be when giving your word? What is important when you are accepting another man's word? What is the best way to deal with success (kept commitments) and failure (broken commitments)?
These are common questions in a volunteer group that I participate in.
"A commitment" is simply a promise, which often engenders expectations on the part of others.
"Commitment" (in the more general sense) is the personal dimension of ownership; there is also a communal dimension of ownership which is empowerment. Total ownership cannot exist and the endeavor will fail unless both dimensions (commitment plus empowerment) are present in suitable quantities.
All commitments have a level of priority, a level of importance, and a level of urgency (see the "First Things First" part of Covey's Seven Habits of Highly Effective People). It is not always true that one of these implies either of the other two. The biggest pitfalls in dealing with commitment issues come from getting one's priorities screwed up. This applies to individuals as well as groups. In most of the interesting situations there is no simple answer to a question like "which takes priority?".
Why make commitments? Teamwork. If you are dealing with a new challenge, the communication and successful follow-through of commitments are what enable coordinated action in groups. (It is not always required for teamwork: once the team has learned how to work together on a given type of task, they can usually get it done more efficiently by dispensing with the planning, talking and micromanaging.)
What is important when making and recieving a commitment? Complete and accurate communication. Each party has to understand what the other thinks is being committed, and this has to cover as many possible future contingencies as you can find time to discuss. Consider the downsides, that's how we got 24 men to the moon without losing any of them. Cover all the bases; don't bluff someone into committing by not telling them what your expectations are for each contingency. Jobs should be cleared thoroughly and in detail, the same way companies interview employment candidates.
I have written much more on all these issues here:
And also the following shorter articles:

Monday, March 1, 2010

Vostè ha estat assimilada

2010 March 1st

Traduir al català

A friend emailed me today with a link to this image of the Eixample of Barcelona and the comment:

How do you say You have been assimilated in Catalan?

The "assimilated" quote is a reference to the fictional Borg, a notably collectivist society of virtually identical aliens that have constructed a cubelike "hive" of many roughly identical rooms and passageways.

I checked into the history of Barcelona's street layout — it turns out the identical city blocks you see in the photo are the result of deliberate planning, in 1859, by urban planner Ildefons Cerdà i Sunyer. In [1] I found:

In Cerdà's project, almost all streets were straight and distributed in a regular geometrical grid with perpendicular intersections (see Figure 1). The city blocks all had the same octagonal shape12. According to Cerdà, this regular distribution was mainly aimed at avoiding privileged building zones.

(Footnote [12] reads: There were about 1,000 blocks, each one size 113.3 m x 113.3 m.)

Figure 1 showed this 1859 map by Cerdà.

In his day Cerdà was accused of being a socialist (the goal of "avoiding privileged building zones" came from this idealism — he was trying to prevent some parts of the city being rich neighborhoods and other parts being poor), and other politicians tried to block his plan but it was adopted and mostly implemented.

In a way, socialism is a real-world expression of the Borg mentality. As perceived by the Star Trek writers, the Borg, socialism and communism all share an "everybody-work-together, everybody-benefits-equally" idealism. And in the United States, identical houses and tract developments are often seen as evidence that individuality and artistic expression have been suppressed.

So my friend's Borg comparison is quite appropriate. The title of this entry was provided by Google Translate.