Monthly Archives: April 2014

Nicholas Carr had a post in MIT’s technology review that is skeptical of the role that social physics can play in engineering a better social future. Rather than touch directly on either his arguments or what is put forth by the author he is reviewing, I’d like to touch on the role of skepticism as illustrated by this case.

Lets get the junk out of the way. The topic for his article is the kind of topic that will produce friction and presumably viewers and his approach to the topic clearly wants to heighten that friction. Fair enough.

Has he done the job of the skeptic, which I think of as tinkering with the idea and finding the holes that give us a sense of how much weight we should give to notion? Sort of, maybe, not really. He hasn’t really given a fair hearing to the original author’s work. Perhaps it can best be said that he reports what he read accurately though that is an assumption given that I haven’t read the original work. It is clear from his writing that he purposefully distances himself from the original author’s work but distancing should not be read the same as objectivity. There is never the sense that he is trying the ideas on for size and pushing them to see where they might go within the original author’s framework or in a framework of his own creation. Rather, he is reporting what he read and there is a sense that he is in a hurry to get to his own arguments, which is where he anticipates the fun happening. In his own arguments the strong sense is that of ‘I don’t like this and here is some stuff that supports (I don’t like this)’.

The issue here is that skepticism is a very valuable service in the idea space. It isn’t done frequently enough as it is. Unfortunately, it then needs to stand up to skepticism in its own right about whether it is doing the job fairly and well.

PS – Inside joke – “and what do you call assassins who accuse assassins, anyway… my friend?”


In Zen meditation (and perhaps other forms) one of the concepts is being present, and in the present, focusing on what is occurring right now. (Sort of redundant I know)

Two friends have had serious accidents recently. Pondering my own past misfortunes, I find that I cannot well remember the time after a bad accident, though I know that at the time I was present in a way that I’ve never achieved through meditation. Perhaps it speaks to my rather rudimentary attempts at meditation. It interests me that pain, or to broaden the notion considerably, non-normalcy (illness also comes to mind) is far better at keeping me ‘present’ than anything else I’ve tried. This makes a certain rough sense if there is some protective necessity in being vigilant at those times.

You can find articles on meditation and pain management but I am more curious about pain as being an access point for the meditative state. In some things I’ve read about classes/retreats you can participate in, the setting sounds deliberately painful. Hard floors in positions that are meant to be held for periods of time while attempting to achieve the desired state. This at least suggests to me that rather than something to be ignored/overcome/examined and set aside, more fundamentally pain is an entry point. Whether you can go any further is beside the point as you have at least gotten in to the doorway of being in the right now.

Perhaps this is incredibly obvious but it hadn’t occurred to me previously.

You go to the grocery story or several for your weekly or bi weekly load up of groceries. You buy all the stuff. You bring it home. The next step for a fair amount of stuff is getting rid of the packaging. Packaging serves a variety of potential purposes from protection to advertising. Looked at from a different angle though, why am I not getting a lot less packaging? I’m thinking of a biodegradable bag with a biodegradable sticker. I’m not saying that works in every case but it seems like it would work in a lot more cases. From an incentive standpoint, I’m thinking of all the hidden dollars in creating, transporting, and getting rid of all that packaging. I don’t mean to be glib that this wouldn’t introduce things that would need to be addressed. From an imagination standpoint though how could this work?

A different thought: could product be delivered in bulk to the retail location, loaded in to a machine, and then dispensed into either my existing bags or the biodegradable ones mentioned above? Packaging could still sit on shelves sort of like having to bring the box up for expensive items. Way bigger capital outlay at the point of sale and big design challenges to overcome. Why not push this as close to the consumer as possible? Wouldn’t this allow me to essentially program what I need and have it all ready to go instead of hand picking it in whatever size I want? (That does tend to commoditize products)

For the grocery stuff, I could see a smaller size grocery (Trader Joe’s size store) maybe making something like that work. Another stray thought: if we can deliver high quality meals through vending machines in Japan, why can’t we make something like the above work?

One last thought: why can’t some thing like shoe boxes be used essentially indefinitely? Make them out of plastic with tabs so they can be flattened post use and carted back to the manufacturer. Slap new labels on them and send them out again.

Here endeth the rant on packaging.