Category: Musings

Extrins, Intrexes, and the Wonderful World of Being Semi-social

Are you an extrovert or an introvert? If you’ve ever done a Myers-Briggs test, you are familiar with the questions: Do you prefer being in a crowd when you are stressed, or would you rather retreat? Do you have lots of friends, or just a few, very deep ones? Do you prefer a loud party of 100 or an intimate gathering of 4?

While in parts of the business world the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator is almost a religion, it was originally meant as a tool to explain that different people think differently, and that these differences of manner shouldn’t be read as differences of attitude. It’s not that a Perceiver is indecisive – it’s that a P needs data to form an opinion. It’s not that a J is impatient, it’s that until the thing is finished, it may well not exist to her.

The I vs. E dimension, introversion vs. extroversion, is something many people easily identify with, much more so than the other three. In fact, while all other ones require explanation just for anyone to understand what they mean, with this dimension it’s the other way around: people identify first, and then they usually need to be explained what the dimensions mean.

The problem with this dimension is that many people that aren’t on the ends of the spectrum don’t quite know what to make of the classification. They feel neither introverted nor extroverted, but they don’t particularly identify with other “zeros”. What’s going on?

Primary human emotions are few and powerful. Research tells us there are six of them: happiness, sadness, fear, anger, surprise and disgust. They are very distinct and come from different places in our brain, having evolved out of reactions to external influencers. Fear, for instance, is an emotion meant to deal with threats. Disgust is supposed to prevent us from doing things (usually: eating them) that could be dangerous for us. Surprise is the way we deal with the unexpected and opens us up for new information.


Why I Gave Up On Facebook

DislikeYou probably noticed if you follow me on Facebook: I’ve barely been on there in the past two years. I’ll log on, once in a while, mostly because I remember it’s someone’s birthday and I wish them well on the channel I know they use. But for myself, I am over it. Why?

There was a time when Facebook was cool. That was, of course, before I was on it. It’s when you had to have a .edu address to be on it, it was when college students from Ivy Leagues got an account and nobody else.

I was in the first wave of externals, before the thing exploded into becoming the social hub of the known universe. When people were trying to figure it out and were excited about the ability to share with those they loved or at least cared about.

Then something happened: Facebook wanted to grow, and it wanted money. The relentless pursuit of both is what killed it for me, as Facebook’s wish to grow and make money started getting at odds with my interests, desires, and passions.

First came the desire to grow. Trying to avoid the fate of sleep towns like Orkut and later Google+, Facebook made it way too easy to overshare. Some of it was just poor design, like the option to send messages (and especially game invitations) to All Friends. Some of it was downright shady, like updating the privacy policy and then changing the default sharing options to an ever-wider audience.


What Auxiliary Language Should You Learn and Why

As you may know, among the many languages I speak there is Esperanto. When the average American hears the name, the reaction is probably either Huh? for those that never heard about it, or the general notion of a failed project for those who have.

Also, in general, you’ll find that those that have an active opinion will say that nobody needs a made-up language as a form of communication any longer, since everybody speaks English. Those that do not speak English should just learn it!

So, let me back up and talk for a moment about the two reasons auxiliary languages (like Esperanto) were created. One is that they are nobody’s language – they don’t belong to a particular nation or group. As a result, they remove the inherent superiority of the group that owns the language (i.e. is native in it).

The far more important reason, though, is that auxiliary languages are generally easier to learn. They certainly were designed to be easier, and they generally use regularity and predictability to ensure that you’ll know what they mean.

Each auxiliary language has a slightly or largely different approach to ease of learning and understanding. Some focus on being understandable to a complete novice, others on being easy to parse for people that have had an introduction. Some focus on being easy to learn for a speaker of a particular language or groups of languages; others focus on being fair to everybody.


Racism May Not Be the Worst Thing About Racism

I moved to America because of racism. Not the racism you find in America, but the racism I faced in back home, in Germany.

It may seem odd, but Germans were still wildly racist in 1998. Instead of targeting the (relatively) few Jews, they had chosen Southern European immigrants, especially those from Turkey, plus the asylum seekers to whom the constitution granted general welcome (but not the people that followed that constitution). An Italian looks Southern European enough. I was a target.

America has its very own problem with racism, and it’s pretty big. But it didn’t affect people that looked like Southern Europeans (at least, not anymore). I flew under the radar and could count on people’s lack of specific bias and fairness, and it worked out for me.

One thing that stayed with me, though, was a certain curiosity about racism. It seemed that racism didn’t follow much logic: not the opinions proffered, but also not the way it affected people or its distribution among them.


Addendum to PPR: Actual Numbers

In the previous post I made the claim that the Percentage of Premiums Returned (PPR) is the one number that all insurance companies should give us, so that we have a better idea of what we are buying. I also made the unsubstantiated claim that the PPR is shockingly low, despite a wealth of web sites (strangely affiliated with the insurance industry) claiming that the cost of payout frequently exceeds premiums. Who’s right?

Well, since many insurance companies are publicly traded, it’s easy enough to figure out. You just have to go to the company web sites and look for the financials. I felt like I really should do that, and picked the first insurance company that sounded big enough and well-known enough. Methodology: I searched of the largest insurance companies in the U.S. and got this list. There, I looked up the first insurance company that would insure things like autos and condos, since that’s a better comparison than life insurance (which has an investment element to it.) The biggest one was State Farm, which I happen to know from their extensive advertising.

I then searched for the company financials, as disclosed, and got this link. Now, I stress that I chose State Farm simply because it was the first one on the list. I do not think it is particularly good or bad as an insurance company, and the numbers are probably just typical of any insurer. So please no State Farm bashing!


The One Number We Need From Insurers

When you get a loan, they always give you two numbers: the (nominal) interest rate and the APR. The first one takes into account only the interest you pay the bank, while the second is supposed to include fees and other items that get tacked on. Since banks get creative with their fees, you should always consider the APR more important than the nominal interest rate: if a loan costs you 1% up-front, that’s a lot of money to add to a potentially enticing interest rate!

When you get an insurance, you don’t really get anything. There is a ton of paper that explains what exactly you are insuring, and to what extent, and an incredibly long list of things that the insurance company decides it will not consider reasons for a payout. Some of them seem reasonable (for instance, if you have a term life insurance, there is always a suicide clause). Others are a bit iffy (no examples here, just look at your phone insurance for examples).

What is really strange is that banks are mandated to include fees in the APR, while insurance companies are not mandated to really do anything. The government prefers to deal with insurance, apparently, on a case-by-case basis. Certain practices are banned, while others are allowed. Some practices are allowed sometimes, others are forbidden on certain days of the month (just an example).

That makes it almost seem like there is no easy number that insurance companies could give us to give an indication of whether it’s worth it or not to get the insurance. Or is there?


Causality: My Cats Know About It

img 1752 20121212 1237163022When trying to pinpoint the root accomplishment of human intelligence, we are frequently tempted to use our inquisitive nature as an explanation. The relentless “why?” of a five-year-old seems to be as good an indicator and instigator of intellectual progress as any. We humans are intelligent because we want to find out.

Nice theory. Only it’s not true. We ask why? to determine causality. We have this notion that for something to be, something else has to have made it that way. Why is the sky blue? Because scattering of light favors high-energy photons, and blue light is at the high energy end of the spectrum. First, the spectrum. Then, scattering and back-reflected color.

It is true that the researching the causality behind observation is how we figure out a lot of things. But it’s not a unique achievement of human intelligence. 

As is proven by my crafty cat, Shasta. Shasta has an eating disorder, a strange form of bulimia. She will overeat from the food bowl and then vomit all the food. I am not very happy about that, since cleaning the daily puddle of puke is not anyone’s favorite chore. It is also something she understandably doesn’t like. So, after eating any food and puking it out for a while, she decides the food causes the vomit and she refuses to eat it any longer.


YHIHF: Bach’s Double Violin Concerto BWV 1043 is Really Vivaldi’s


Every culture loves its heros. To Italians, the Poet is Dante – to Germans it’s Goethe, to English-speakers it’s Shakespeare. This is nearly universal. What is not universal is that some of the greats disappear or fade because the culture they belong to does.

It is infernal how many “minor” cultures have brought forth amazing artists and scientists that don’t register for all their worth simply because we are not used to their culture producing genius of universal proportions. We simply make fun of people that come from those cultures for always trying to show how everything was done there.


The Two Numbers We Need

I have spoken with many friends about super-taxing the super-rich (according to the Democrats, that’s anyone that makes more than $250,000 a year after deductions). I have heard many different opinions as to why that’s a good thing or a bad thing. In the end, I decided I need more information to make a decision; in particular, I need two numbers.

The first number is an easy one to get: What percentage of the wealth of the super-rich is invested outside this country?

Why does that matter? Because if, as investment advisors tell me, the best thing to do right now is to invest in “emerging markets,” then taxing the super-rich is extremely important. If their money leaves the country and goes to China, India, etc. – where it certainly stands a good chance of becoming a lot more money, and where it helps propping up their economies – then it’s money America loses.

In other words, even if the Trickle Down effect had worked during the Reagan years, it wouldn’t work anymore if enough of that money trickles down abroad. It would be much wiser to take some of that money from the super-rich and invest it in the United States. Maybe by giving students a break on their tuition, or by building some decent infrastructure.


The Information Revolution Has Not Arrived Yet

Some of you may remember Al Gore’s claim he had invented the Internet. Well, the claim was never made that way, and Al Gore’s role in commercializing the Internet made out of a government playground what we know today, so he may have had a little to boast about.

The other thing he was talking about, though, never really came to be. That’s the Information Superhighway. It was supposed to deliver information at your fingertips, and for some things (like cheap watches) it works even too well. For others, though, it doesn’t work at all, and that’s a real shame.

You see, a lot of the biggest corporations in the world deal with nothing but information. They sell it to you at an outlandish profit, but you should be able to get that information for free, or almost. I am talking about financial services and insurance companies. In a real Information Superhighway economy, there is no need for either of them, and the fact both are still alive and well is puzzling.