Friday, April 15, 2016

Useful Math for Liberal Arts Majors

In 1988, John Allen Paulous authored Innumeracy, a great little book that wondered why so many smart people are numerically illiterate, and what the consequences of such ignorance are.  Last week Paulous hit home for me when Donald Trump complained about delegate theft--despite having won 45% of all delegates on just 37% of the popular vote. 
Four out of three Americans have trouble with percentages, I’m told.  And something like 104% struggle with fractions.
I learned long ago, however, that numbers can be the key to success and happiness, if only presented in the proper fashion.  With that in mind, I have assembled some of the numerical rules and laws which can be understood by anyone--a hack for my fellow liberal arts majors--and can truly improve your life.
The 50% Rule of PowerPoint Fonts 
Most people know Guy Kawasaki’s 10/20/30 Rule of PowerPoint.  But here’s another, even simpler “golden rule” of PowerPoint presentations that will keep most of your decks in good working order: Always use a font size at least as large as half the age of the oldest person in the room. 
So, if you’re addressing the 70-year old Chairman, go no smaller than a 36-font.  If you are charming a 45-year old VC, insist on no less than a 24-font.  And it’s almost impossible to go too big.
The secret here is that large fonts aren’t just more legible but also mean fewer words.  Which helps with a corollary law that says managers over 50 will only pay attention for about 50% of the time you are presenting, anyway.

Three ingredients--a not unreasonable recipe.
Only Make Recipes with Three to Five Ingredients
Less than three and it’s mixing, not cooking.  More than five and it’s hard work, and easier to order a pizza.

Pain is Always a 10

If you should ever find yourself in a hospital emergency room dealing with something less than imminent death, and the nice lady at the check-in desk asks, "On a scale of 1 to 10, how badly does it hurt?"--you must say "10."  Do not let her see you hesitate.  You may not say, "Mostly 7 with spikes of 10." Anything less than a constant, unrelenting 10 and you will be placed at the end of the line.

Everybody lies about how many hours they work in a week, how much they read, how much they weigh, how old they are, how much TV they watch--and how much it hurts.  Lie about your pain or lose your place in line.

Double the Feeders, Triple the Feed

I'm not entirely sure why this is true, but my local Wild Birds Unlimited dealer, Henry, warned me--and he was right.  Suppose you have one bird feeder in your yard and you fill it with one bag of seed each week.  If you then install a second, equal-sized feeder, you will end up purchasing three bags of seed every week to keep the two feeders full.

There is some underlying socio-economic principle at work that probably has much broader applications.  Maybe Ayn Rand or Karl Marx could figure it out.  Maybe John Audubon.  There's maybe even a graduate economics thesis here.

Never Buy the Second Cheapest Bottle of Wine on the Menu

Sommeliers know where you live, and it's quite likely to be at the intersection of "don't know much about wine" and "don't want to look like a cheapskate."  Consequently, what you'll inevitably do is skim the wine list and purchase the second cheapest bottle of wine on the menu.  That's the one with the massive mark-up.

Why?  Because sommeliers know where you live.

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

The Greatest Race in History: Climate Change vs. Artificial Intelligence

In 2014, two technology historians authored a short essay called The Collapse of Western Civilization.  Naomi Oreskes of the University of California and Erik Conway of the California Institute of Technology assumed the role of a future historian from the Second People's Republic of China, writing in 2393 to mark the tercentenary of the end of Western Civilization (1540-2093).  

The essay is a reflection on what befell Earth and its people, searching throughout for an answer as to why the “children of the Enlightenment” failed to act on overwhelming information about climate change and the damage it would bring.  The only conclusion this future historian could reach was that Western Civilization had fallen into the grips of a second Dark Age “in which denial and self-deception, rooted in an ideological fixation on ‘free’ markets, disabled the world’s powerful nations in the face of tragedy.”

In other words, future historians would one day decide that we knew what was happening but were powerless to stop it.  Climate change would be seen as the great, slow-motion train wreck of our time.

According to this "future" history, the tipping point for the collapse of Western Civilization came in 2041 when a heatwave destroyed food crops around the world and incited rioting in virtually every major city.  With a mean global warming of 3.9 degrees Celsius, water and food rationing became universal.  Governments toppled.

Richer and better protected than most countries, the U.S. still saw great swaths of its farmland become desert.  The government announced plans with Canada to create a United States of North America to allow a northward population migration.

The second half of the twenty-first century included a devastating shutdown of the Indian monsoon, collapse of the West Antarctica Ice Sheet, some 70 percent extinction of species, and a Second Black Death.  Human life was decimated.