Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Goal Setting and Human Psychology

This evening, I was discussing with my wife the importance of focusing one's energies and setting goals. It occurred to me that goal setting is the most overlooked and most powerful tool for self growth. Studies have shown people who create goals and implement plans to achieve them are vastly more likely to succeed. Proper goal setting is the tool of the homo econimus, rational, self actualizing man.

But the problem is that most people don't understand HOW to set their goals. Failure at this initial step undermines the whole process that follows, like a house built on quicksand - it may seem stable, but the slightest pressure will send it sinking into the swamp.

So what is a goal? It isn't an idea, or a concept, or a state. A proper goal is a measurable result of an action. "Being a good person/spouse" isn't a goal. It's certainly a nice idea and something to aspire to, but it is ultimately meaningless and undefined. Even "losing weight" isn't a proper goal because it is too nebulous. The scale went down overnight, so am I done?

The power of a goal is the creation of a psychological reality, an obligation to the self that lends itself to oriented thinking. This can only be accomplished through definition. To-do lists work because they prescribe specific actions to be taken in an immediate time frame with organization and importance. It is NOT enough to say "I want to lose weight." In order to be effective, one must say how much and by when. Conversely, saying your goal is "to finish school" doesn't work because there is no action explicitly connected to your goal, making it impossible to gage progress.

Once you have an action, clearly defined in scope and in time, it becomes natural to measure your progress against that goal. Consciousness becomes the key to your success, and the way to make awareness natural is through planning and reviewing your goals. Being mindful of HOW we build our goals can help us move naturally in the direction of our dreams.

Friday, August 16, 2013

4 Minute Hoax: Investigating Methods of Emotional Manipulation

First, an apology - It's been 8 months since I last posted, and I've had dozens of ideas but never put pen to paper, so to speak. I'm trying to change that now, and getting myself on a new schedule. I was shocked today to look at the dusty dashboard and saw that I've been getting a steady stream of pageviews even without new contents.
So y'all are awesome.

I'm jumping in to this head first, so to speak, and starting up a new blog with a skeptical eye to weight loss fads. My weight issues are a major part of who I am, and I've always tried to approach the subject with rationality. What's intriguing is just how much effort is invested by the dieting industry to alter human behavior. Today I accidentally stumbled across the 4 Minute Abs Hype video that has started to make its way around the internet.

I'm both an economist and an actor. I've met with many a quizzical eyebrow to that combo so I'll explain that the unifying element is the study of choice. Both economics and character studies are about understanding HOW and WHY people act as they do - getting into their skin, so to speak. As an actor, I invest myself into living through emotions, as an economist, I study how people manipulate them.
From that angle, this video hits all the right notes.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Dealing With Debt Insolence

I don't make a point to respond to trolls on the internet, but recently I came across one arguing that the federal government is like a teenager given an allowance, and that it's finally time to stop "paying the irresponsible teenager" for "wasting" the money you've given him. This thoroughly Republican line of attack is aimed at discrediting the government while ignoring that the fundamental principles that underpin the process are publicly driven, and that the largest portion of voluntary spending is Conservative backed Defense funding.

Really? THAT'S your argument?

Imagine you had a teenager you gave $1,000 a month, and told him he was responsible for taking care of his younger siblings because you as parents were "too busy" to take care of them. Every month, he has to buy them food and cook for them, pay for their tuition, take them to school in the used car he bought, pay for gas, clean the dishes, mow the yard, etc.
But he constantly comes up short, because what you DEMAND of him isn't covered by what you PAY him to do. So he turns to credit cards. When those are maxed out, he requests a modest increase in his allowance, so he can try to somehow get all this organized, but you berate him as "irresponsible and wasteful" for doing the things you've DEMANDED of him to do.
"Why are you feeding your siblings any meat when you can just load them up on barley and corn, a la livestock?! You were doing just fine SEVEN YEARS AGO."

He apologizes, but explains that even with reducing them to a nutritionally poor diet that would be injurious to the children, he would STILL need those increases. You see, the price of food has risen in seven years. So has insurance costs, tuition, electricity, childcare fees, diapers, not to mention GAS.

But you don't care. In your mind, it's still 1955 where a gallon of gas can be had for a quarter, milk for a dollar, and a pound of meat for forty cents.

Hey, you haven't felt the squeeze because your income has skyrocketed over the last 60 years. No one else must be affected either...

Friday, August 31, 2012

Calling the Spade a Spade: Can we stop with the Fear-Mongering?

My father recently forwarded me an email for my consideration - it was excerpted from an article in the Las Vegas Review written by a fellow classmate who claims to "know Obama's master scheme." If you really think about what he says, it's both amusing and frightening - amusing that he get's things so terribly, terribly wrong, and frightening that his threats and fear-mongering are considered mainstream within certain sects of American voters.

The email closed with a link to, claiming that the "whole thing is true!" What follows is my discussion of the points made by Wayne Allyn Root:-

If you read the link, it is true in the sense that it is a correctly attributed OPINION PIECE in the Las Vegas Review by a regular commentator on FOX NEWS. Which means that it is clearly OPINION, BIASED, and CONSERVATIVE. Or, in this case, Libertarian, as the writer in question was the Libertarian candidate for the 2008 election.
In terms of the actual claims, let me gather things a bit and actually address them.
Preface - from the get go he admits that he is crafting a conspiracy theory. That doesn't make it wrong, but it is an admission that the whole article is based on supposition, not fact.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Killing My First Raid Boss: Why Forbes Got Their Analysis of Activision Completely Wrong

I grew up shouting spells in D&D instead of chanting "Defense!," playing multiple CCG's [Decipher, you will be missed] instead of collecting baseball cards, and ogling new computer parts instead of cars or bikini-clad models. The desire to "assimilate" all knowledge, the plumbing of rules for synergies and efficiencies, and the concepts of interactive roleplaying play a major role in my growth and development. In no small way, they are partially to blame for my present occupation as a data analyst/economist and my involvement with the theatre.
While I don't consider myself to be a "hardcore" gamer [cue the debate on that word] I am an avid fan of videogame culture. A large number of the sites and comics I read on a regular basis are invovled with this growing subset of our society in one fashion or another.

When I read about an analysis of Activision stock by, I was immediately hooked into reading it. After the relatively short article, I found myself rather disappointed that the guest-writers seem to be completely clueless on the socio-psychological mechanics of gaming and the industry.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Project: Urban Poverty and a Community-Based Solution

Inner city Baltimore is characterized as an area of extreme poverty, crime, and a distinct lack of opportunity. More houses are condemned than inhabited, people live far below the poverty line, and many drop out of education and resort to crime due to a lack of other opportunities. Incarceration for minor offenses exacerbates this problem, as even after serving time they are unable to find useful work that pays a living wage. This cycle of poverty, under-education, crime, and violence undermines the thousands of underprivileged children, teenagers, and adults who are unable to extricate themselves from their situation.
Small businesses moving into the community often employ people from outside the community, and only serve to remove what little money there is from the local economy. Crime and other factors increase the cost of doing business locally, and solutions based on individuals outside the community quickly shutter in the face of these difficult challenges.
Here’s my proposal.
Community crowd-funded co-op Brewery

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Reimagining Architecture in the Modern Age

As the boys of Monty Python are apt to say: "And Now for Something Completely Different!"
One of the joys of being a cenophile (using the greek root ceno = new, not the latin, though it is applicable for a foodie like me) is encountering new and interesting fields of study and integrating that information into new world constructs.
In college, people often questioned my choice of Economics and Theatre as a dual major. The general response I learned to provide was that between these two fields, you can include practically all genre of  information: Sociology, Antropology, History, Psychology, Art, Physiology, Political Science, Law, Mathematics and Analysis, ... Really, anything outside of the principal "hard sciences" of physics, chemistry, and bio, though recently I've begun to revisit and rethink the fundamental connections between perception and action.

As my wife is an architect and designer, her work affords me a glimpse into the philosophies of an entirely different realm of study - that of the designing and modulation of the very world around us. What follows is some introspection on how we craft our environments based on traditional structures, and a glimpse into a future in which we structure our living spaces more closely alligned with our own needs and behaviors rather than forcing them to conform to a standardized, outdated model.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Neuroeconomics: Introspection on Attention Surplus

Yesterday, I wrote a piece on how modern technology wasn't causing problems by decreasing our attention, but rather with increasing our capacity to handle data in our mundane environment. It occurred to me earlier today that things like meditation aren't about increasing attention, but rather narrowing focus on to a specific set of activities. Actively filtering our experience enables us to push past passive barriers from stimulation that might otherwise overwhelm us - think of tai chi or the intense focus during sports, acting, chess, or really any activity for an example.

This morning I read an excellently written article that provides a sort of counterpoint to my discussion - that the processing of so much data dampens the overall production of independent thought.
It's a worthwhile read, but I disagree with it's speculative conclusions.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Results from the Great Experiment

Well, what can I say...

The final results of our first experiment with Free, Good Will, and Marketing for a small business have finally come in. Overall, very few of the free tickets we offered were taken by the two organizations we worked with, and a third declined entirely for political reasons. Nevertheless, they expressed immense gratitude for our desire to give back to the community by bringing some happiness to those in need.

To simplify the numbers, our total sales topped $2,600.
Now, that doesn't sound like a large number overall, but consider:

  1. Our total budget for the show was minimal ($2,000 budgeted, <$1,700 used)
  2. Nearly a third of that was licensing fees.
  3. We only ran for four shows.  Everyone wanted us to put on additional performances, but any more would have caused both scheduling and licensing issues. 
  4. We came in at a quarter of our advertising budget with little to no manpower. Direct marketing WORKS.
This has been one of our top grossing shows. Overall, that's over a 50% profit for a short term project. Not too shabby. If we had the flexibility of managing our own space, we most likely would have been able to pull off more shows and attracted even larger crowds. As it is, we were sold out one of the nights and our overall audience matched our "better" advertised shows (read: paid adverts in local papers). For a nonprofit theatre group that's entirely volunteer owned and operated, that's not bad. Margins like this ensure we'll have ample cushion to operate shows with more elaborate needs. Our next two plays, a company produced children's play and a Shakespearean piece over the summer, won't have licensing fees at all.

Most importantly, we maintained ample contact with various organizations throughout the community. We are beginning to form connections to other groups which will, hopefully, bear even more fruit in the future. Working together with other social groups helps create that good will that's so critical in creating a successful bond with the public.

Lessons learned:
  • Personal contact is Key - everyone you talk to is an individual. Unique. Treat them that way, and they will happily respond to you 
  • Don't be Annoying, Don't be Ignored - make your message present and immediate, but not forceful - put yourself in their field of vision to grab their attention, but DON'T steal it, or they will feel cheated and resentful
  • Word of Mouth is King - yes, a few people heard about us from the radio spot we did, some came from  the writeups we got in a local paper, but most came from a primary or secondary contact - think the "Kevin Bacon" type connections.
  • You don't need a Big Budget to be a Big Success - what you need, to reiterate, is LOTS of energy put toward generating goodwill and personal connections within your community/audience
  • Don't be Afraid to Ask - people are more friendly than you give them credit for once you get to know them; that surly secretary might react nicer to someone else in your organization. Know your assets and use them.
If I think of anything I'm missing, I'll update this post later. Any thoughts?

Surplus in the Attention Economy

A little while back, I decided on a lark to count the various things I was doing simultaneously.
1) paying attention to a man reciting verse aloud
2) folding an item I was using to put it away
3) reciting a prayer by heart
4) scanning the room for an individual I was going to get a ride with
5) composing this list/blogpost
6) calculating the approximate time I would arrive at work and thereby the total number of hours I would be likely spending there
7) mentally engineering and designing a problem specific solution
8) contemplating the code that I was potentially going to work on that day

And probably a number of others, but these are the ones I remember as being directly conscious and deliberate of.