That Special Someone

There’s an instinct that seems to drive people to want to be with a specific other person; “pair bonding” as the scientific term might go. It’s a natural instinct that you can explain away as pure biology, but of course humans have coopted this notion into something else entirely and put our own complicated spin on things.

Finding “that special someone” is therefore a fairly uniquely human thing to do – the idea that there’s one person that’s specifically right for you, someone that meets the criteria of an ideal partner – sufficiently similar, yet sufficiently different to keep things interesting; sufficiently near, speaking the same or a similar language, of the same age… on a rational level, that’s a fools game.

And yet…

And yet we still play it, because we’re fools blinded by emotion and this idea of an ideal romantic love which would be sufficient to surmount these challenges. We pay token attention to the probabilities and realities in an effort to satisfy a different drive, a desire for mental and emotional fulfilment, beyond the purely physical.

But… it requires patience, and persistence. It requires keeping at it, trying again and again, until you do find the one that sticks for whatever reason, because that person will be worthwhile. That person will match you mentally, challenge you to do better, to be bettter; that person will love you back and adore you, that person will have something in them that you recognise at a deeper level, and you will trust them, and want to make them happy, and they will make you happy, and you will share a lifetime of stories, and you’ll dream of the rest of your lives together when you’ve only just met, because something in this person will sing to you on a level that you don’t even realise but is within you, like a tuning fork suddenly in resonance with another, and you’ll want that person there all the time.

Some may compromise sooner, accept shortcomings and think rationally that someone happens to tick enough boxes to make it a good deal. No doubt I’ve also contemplated that for myself, more than a couple of times, more recently than I’d care to admit. The bonding instinct doesn’t necessarily require a specific person, even when the emotional side does.

And sometimes, persisting, you get lucky… :)

Happy Valentines Day, friends, lovers, countrymen.

Ideas from HBR

I’ve started listening to podcasts recently, and one that seems to work really well for me is the Harvard Business Review Ideacast. Ok, it’s a little bit B-School, a little bit world-of-work, but it’s surprisingly interesting despite the apparently staid context in which it exists. Here’s some interesting episodes I’ve listened to recently, along with ideas in them:

  1. The “Jobs to be Done” theory of innovation

    It’s an idea that’s come up on my radar recently, but I had assumed it was a new spin on the Getting Things Done productivity method. Turns out, it’s a different way of looking at how people interact with things and companies. In brief, when you’re buying a product (or a service) from a company, it’s not because you want the product, it’s because there’s a proverbial “job” to be done – whether that “job” is satisfying your hunger, or getting to a place; framing it that way rather than buying a burger or jumping in a cab lets you identify better what the actual activity being performed is, and this helps identify areas and ideas for innovation.

    The podcast isn’t necessarily enough to re-orient you towards this way of thinking all on its own, but it serves as an interesting introduction.

  2. How Work Changed Love

    A strange topic for HBR, but interesting insight into where “dating” and modern relationships have emerged from… a quick run down:
    – Until the 19th century, courtship was supervised – the interactions between unmarried men and women was mostly in family or community situations, possibly arranged by someone. This gives me a different perspective on the oft-complained about arranged marriage thing in Indian culture – it’s not that far removed!
    – As women entered the workforce, the context changed with more people away from home and meeting in “unsupervised” ways – so dating as it’s known today didn’t really kick off until the 1910s and 1920s. That’s really recent as far as relationships amongst humans comes from – just three generations removed from where we are today, and yet it’s such an integral part of the youth experience today.
    – Economic mobility has reduced since the 1960s – and one of the reasons for this is that with women becoming more equal, particularly with higher education, there’s less reason for men to look across class lines for relationships.
    – The median age for women at first childbirth is 25, while the median age for women at first marrage is 27. That’s a big swing in how marriage is perceived.
    – Marriage is being looked at as a “capstone” instead of a “cornerstone” – it’s what you get to at the end of your growth as an adult, rather than a foundation.

    I’m genuinely interested in how these things have played out.

  3. The connection between Speed and Charisma

    A few hundred milliseconds are the difference between someone being perceived as charismatic and those perceived as far less so. This is interesting to me because there’s definitely a difference in the speed of my response driven by my comfort and ease with some people, so I wonder if the perceptions of these people are entirely different to those closer to me simply based on the speed of my responses.

  4. Bonus, from the Ezra Klein Show – “We have locked in centuries of climate change”

    Because it’s depressing as shit, but everyone needs to hear it. The world is not in a happy place when it comes to climate change. Be aware, be active, be deliberate in your actions.

The End of the Obama Presidency

Today marks the end of the Obama presidency, and in some ways, it seems to mark the end of an era – or perhaps more pessimistically, the respite from the decline of an era that effectively ended with the events of September 11th, 2001.

Perhaps we’d been to unwilling to admit it over the last 8 years, but since 2001, the United States of America turned from being a leader for the multicultural, involve-everyone-everywhere sentiment to the navel-gazing self-interested country that its enemies had always accused it of being; where George W. Bush led the country into misadventures and tipping the delicate balance that had held for the 90s in the Middle East into the dumpster-fire, basket-case of a region it seems right now.

Obama’s efforts to revive American interest in the progressive, outward looking world seem an exception – the first years reacting to the financial crisis of 2008 that was never quite a full-blown multi-year recession, followed by the battles with the Republican opposition that organised into a parliamentary style opposition rather than the loose confederation that had always been the operating standard in the US Congress.

Obama’s efforts to rehabilitate America’s image post-W were for the most part successful – despite the ongoing issues in Syria, and the free hand used with drone warfare around the world, the open engagement with the world community and the level-headed leadership was respected. Adults were in charge. For a few years, it seemed like we could put the Bush years down as the anomaly.

Now… now we’re getting Trump and his henchmen. Bush wasn’t the anomaly, he was the prototype – a deep distrust of intellectualism and expertise infecting a populace convinced that things won’t change. The shame is the distrust of expertise, and the necessary recognition of this utility. Watching confirmation hearings for key executive branch positions, it’s clear the people being put in charge of these things have little to no idea of what they’re getting involved in. We’re going from people with deep knowledge and care to people who openly oppose the very notions of the departments they’re supposed to be running.

It’s like their assumptions are that everyone should have an equal chance at trying things, without realising specialist roles and knowledge are useful; the idea of putting a CEO in charge of an organisation and purpose that he or she does not know is not infinitely applicable; experience and excellence in the field of business does not equip one to consider a fundamentally different purpose in the public service space.

Add in Trump’s own openly declared insular views – withdrawal from NATO being on the table, a deep distrust of the UN and international processes, the childish ideas of a wall on a border, the hostility to global trade – and you see America steadily pulling its head in, repeating the experience of a hundred years ago as the post-WWI America retreated. Where they once led by example, now they disown any position of leadership beyond economic and military, both of which are likely to be overtaken soon by China and its particularly control-heavy model of society.

For most of my life, America’s been a presence that shows the way for a free and democratic society. The respect for law, freedom of speech and press, and the willingness of the people to experiment, try, fail, get back up – all ways in which the country and its culture has attracted people the world over for centuries. Sure, there have been foibles and ongoing failures, but now, it appears a dark curtain is falling across the country, and hope that America leads the way disappears.

Russia talks up hegemony in a oligarchical state led by a virtual dictator; Europe bifurcates as the populist movements tear apart international cooperation; China of all countries – the most successful notionally communist country – is a major proponent of free trade; Australia meanders directionless as leaders abandon leading; what hope do we have of solving big international problems like climate change – barring the fact that China itself recognises the costs, and India too commits to skipping the carbon heavy phase of development. With mistrust of expertise in the west though, I fear we just end up mired in the muck.

Today marks as strongly as November 8th did the decline and fall of American exceptionalism; for all that Trump claims to lead America to new greatness, is there anyone outside America that takes this credibly? The life he’s promising is long gone, the world moving on. Whatever comes next does not resemble the 1950s, but that’s what Trump and his followers hope and dream for – an era of greatness for a slice of the population not adapting to the world’s changing tides.

May you live in interesting times, as the Chinese curse goes.

Sony’s Design History

This collection of photos from Sony’s design history is beautiful and demonstrative of some amazing stuff that came out of Sony over the years. Always loved their gear. So much seemingly definitional and advanced stuff they made, and it all seemed to end with Howard Stringer’s time at the helm.

(partly also thinking of the story of how Steve Jobs appreciated Sony’s designs, and how that talks about the relationship ending with Stringer’s time as CEO, and how with Apple’s increasingly consumer-neglectful design changes, I don’t have Sony’s designs to fall back on…)

Thinking about house prices

Since Time is Money – money representing a token of value for the time you spend doing something – in theory you should be able to substitute either one for the other, right? Like, if you had all the time in the world, you could in theory make the thing you’re buying instead of paying someone else to have made it.

We can apply that to thinking about housing prices. After all, the price of a house should be proportional to how much it costs to build, right?

According to the ABS, median price for a dwelling in Australia is $623,000. Note this includes all houses and units, all over Australia. According to Domain, in June, the median price for houses in Sydney was $1,021,968.

Minimum wage in Australia is $17.70.

Therefore, what the market says at the moment is that a dwelling – a place to live –  in Australia – on average is worth 35,198 hours of work in Australia – barring transaction costs. That’s 4,400 working days (doing a bit of rounding here), or 16 years 10 months of work with only weekends off.

For Sydney, that means the median house is 57,739 hours of work, or 7,218 days, meaning 27 years and 8 months of work.

I can say for sure the houses in Australia don’t take 16, or even 27 years to build. They’re up in like 6 months, max. So the rest of it is time you’re getting from something else – perhaps something ephemeral as the view (time taken to get to a place with a similar view…), or as practical as commute time, or… I’m not sure, but there’s other sacrifices and investments of time that this would represent.

Ok, so it’s a little silly to divide median house price by minimum wage, but if you’ve got a house, or even some kind of dwelling, this is a useful way to recognise the literal effort the walls around you represent.

Navel gazing

Wow, wait, I’ve been writing on this blog for nearly 11 years now… 

The thought came to me while fiddling with the sidebar images. If you’ve not noticed, there’s a rotating roster of images that changes with each refresh. Some are more readable than others. Some are my own images, some are from Unsplash, which is a pretty neat resource for royalty-free imagery that also happens to contain some amazing photos to boot.

The rotating imagery was from an idea I’d had for a new design for this site back in 2007, shortly after I’d moved to London, back when the site still had a splash page and a forum. Back when I had more time for these things. It had been a couple of years after graduating – a couple of years since I’d been committed to changing the design/theme every 3 months. The irony of going from a hand-built blog where I changed design regularly to one on a dynamic platform with built in theme support where I ceased to change the design is not lost on me.

Looking back at that idea from November 2007 (9 years!), I still like the mockups and prototypes I’ve got. It still feels basically fresh – I should be congratulating myself on being so forward looking, but the truth is that while I was able to make the mockups, it never panned out because I didn’t know enough HTML/CSS/JS to make it work, and I didn’t have the time or effort to put into following through, as a hobby slowly fell by the wayside.

And now, years later, I’m pulling it off, mostly. I’ve still got this site – indeed I just renewed the domain for another little while, the site hosting costs for another little bit… and I’m really not sure why. But it’s important to me to have this space – this space that’s my own, as opposed to a Twitter or Facebook or Medium or other platform where I’m a subdomain at best. Pushing the Sky is mine, for better or for worse.

So – point of the story – while scrolling and realising how long it’s been, I also realised where the monthly post counts slowed to the woeful rate we have today… and while 2007 happened to be the last time I put significant effort into attempting to redesign this site, and 2008 apparently was the year where I went from writing something here every day and a half to every 3 days, and then 2009 became the year I slowed that even further – even though it’s been 6 or 7 years since I put any concerted effort into this, I still find myself appreciating the space, and appreciating that I have an outlet that’s my own.

And now I need to restore it; I need to revert from using those other platforms as my primary outlets to write something, or share a photograph, or a review of a movie, and return to the source. I need to post here more, and I’ll make a concerted effort to do so. Keep me honest, will you?

The Role of Shame in Politics

And so at long last, we reach US Election Day 2016, when a reckoning has finally come for the American political system – the candidates perfectly set up as the establishment facing the insurgents, the know-nothing Donald Trump squaring off against the know-it-all Hillary Clinton.

How did we get like this?

How did we get from the point where once upon a time, a candidate that was even threatened with being revealed to be cheating on his wife, would step back, stand down, or resign altogether than face the music, to the point where we’re seeing a candidate standing despite those accusations and worse being thrown around, and still he appears to be as close as a 3% gap?

What changed to allow this to happen?

Shame. Or the lack thereof.

It is the nature of public shame more than anything in democracies to operate as the public conscience of the politicians. It is not the law that forces a resignation in the face of allegations of adultery, for instance; it is shame that pushes a politician to resign when word comes to light of legitimate but morally dubious donations; it is shame that forces departures that allegations of falsehoods bring to light, no matter how legal it may have been at the time.

It is shame, a somewhat quaint notion intrinsically linked with the quainter notions of honor and propriety. It is with shame that we have driven much of the better behavior without needing to codify it.

It was a key component that drove the first parliaments in England – honor and shame being what for years was enough to bring glory and to end careers. So much of parliament’s rules are mere conventions, and adherence to these is driven by the honor of doing the right thing. Where a parliamentarian would cross a line of honor, the sheer shame of doing so was in it self enough to force change.

Now? Who would bother with feeling shame, if the penalty isn’t there? Where’s the big stick as a result?

Let’s take the concrete example in Australia most recently of George Brandis, Attorney General. Ignoring the Solicitor-General’s advice should be grounds for dismissal due to ministerial dereliction of duty; misleading Parliament should have been sufficient for the shame of those deceitful actions to force Brandis to walk, as apparently it’s not an offence to do so.

Brandis didn’t walk, he didn’t fall on his sword, and Turnbull didn’t dismiss him.

Instead, these days, there’s no shame in it. It’s being able to go to the extremes of previously tolerated behavior, and then keep going, because what’s the penalty?

And thus we have Trump. A man with no shame so much that he keeps getting away with so very much and reaping the reward. We don’t hold Trump to a higher standard; we understand this man is poor and devoid of character in many ways, but it doesn’t matter because he’s on the side that uses shame when convenient and brushes it away. It’s not illegal, why should he apologize?

The outright denial of facts and truth is entirely possible if there’s no shame in doing so. If there’s nothing to say “You lied and you ought not have done that,” then where are we left to go?

Where is the shame in treating humans the way we’ve done in Nauru and Manus Island? Political expediency rules.

Truly, we will need to restore shame to its rightful place amongst the emotions that govern those who would governs us, because without it, Trump isn’t the last on this band-wagon, and that’s a truly terrifying thought.

Google now tracking more personally

Google’s relaxing a previous barrier between DoubleClick, their online ad division that controls 75% of the market, and the rest of Google’s data that can track you directly tied to your Google account, as reported by ProPublica.

What does this mean? Well, up until now, you could have a DoubleClick tracking cookie and it would make ads follow you around the web – those creepy ads on random sites that somehow knew what you searched for on eBay 15 minutes ago – but it wouldn’t necessarily be tied into browsing activity elsewhere.

Now, if you’ve got a Google account that you’ve signed into, Google reserves the right to tie those two together – and not just on the same browser or device, because hell, Google knows who you are on your phone as well as your PC or iPad.

So: Google knows who you are, they know who you get in touch with, they know what you’re searching for, and they know where you’re touching the web because any page with ads by Google or their DoubleClick subsidiary are now tied in together.

How long until any page with Google Analytics is tied into the same thing?

This is the price we’re paying for everything being “free” on the web – increasingly trading privacy, increasingly exposing ourselves to more and more specific advertising. Some might say good, irrelevant ads are useless, but at what point does it get to the “creepy” side of the coin?