Archive of articles classified as "General"

Good always wins.

17/04/2013

Tim DavisThings like bombings make you loose all faith in humanity. Senseless destruction by someone with such minute intelligence that they believe the greatest effect on life is inflicted by hiding in the shadows. Hasn’t humanity shown time and time again that shadows do nothing but strengthen the collective resolve ? Good will always triumph evil because humans are fundamentally good, fundamentally kind and fundamentally caring. If this were not so, we would have destroyed ourselves long ago. Attempting to destroy one another achieves nothing.

September 11 destroyed my faith and the aftermath restored it. Boston does the same and then you read stories like this.

“With the first blast, Mr. Arredondo jumped over the fence and ran toward the people lying on the ground. What happened next, he later recounted to a reporter: He found a young man, a spectator, whose shirt was on fire. He beat out the flames with his hands. The young man, who turned out to be Jeff Bauman, had lost the lower portion of both legs. He took off a shirt and tied it around the stump of one leg. He stayed with Mr. Bauman, comforting him, until emergency workers came to help carry him to an ambulance. He helped only one man, Mr. Bauman.”

This is why “they” – the weak, senseless and unknown perpetrators – will never win. Their cause will never be greater than the cause of good, than the core values that we cherish as a society nor than the fundamental nature of human beings. To be human is to repel such evil with all your being and remember that most of our world fundamentally cares about the rest of those in it. When such a notion no longer holds true, then we will no longer exist as a planet. History, however, has proven to us time and time again that this will never be the case. Since life began as we know it – good has always triumphed and it will again now. Evil has no place in this world and the world always manages to find a way to extinguish its presence one way or another. The sheer number of good people on earth always manage to crush the tiny, insignificant number of evil ones regardless of the deadly effect that small number may have.

Thus, it is true that when disaster strikes, the human spirit naturally and organically manifests itself and kicks in – selfless acts always outshine the evil ones. The holding of a hand, the comforting of an injured person and the utmost action to save a life is what humanity stands for in all of its raw and beautiful form. The mere nanosecond of time when the human brain isn’t wired to think of oneself but rather think of someone else in need. As long as humanity continues along that path – evil cannot win no matter how much heartache it can cause when it appears.

Thats the way it has always been, thats the way it will always be. Good will always triumph.

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Challenge things. Think big.

15/08/2012

Tim DavisDoing something different is hard. Attempting to make other people believe in what you’re doing is even harder. It’s hard to recruit new people to any business. Most people opt to stay safe, to go into large organizations, to earn their salary and do their work. There is nothing wrong with this and in fact in some ways it’s totally awesome to do this. I have done this and while I liked it for a period – I just wasn’t the sort of person who remained settled easily. I wanted to try to change things and in turn change the world – somehow. That might sound corny or might even sound silly to some - “change the world ? he thinks. yeah right.”

And that’s exactly the view I wanted to purge.  Gandhi said

“You must be the change you want to see in the world. As human beings, our greatness lies not so much in being able to remake the world – that is the myth of the atomic age – as in being able to remake ourselves.” 

The journey of the first step and all that. It’s been repeated over and over in history but seemingly constantly ignored. But there is truth in that!

Human beings are placed on this planet to challenge the status quo – to question, to be different, to fight, to stand up for inequalities and to work to make something better somehow in some tiny insignificant (or not) way so that their stamp is placed somewhere on the planet when they aren’t here anymore. Startups attempt to do that – many fail, some succeed and that’s part of the world of entrepreneurship. Mostly, at least in my mind, the desire to succeed is often the greatest correlation to success. Continuing when all is failing, when the sky is failing down and no one accept’s that what you are doing is worthwhile is often the hardest thing – it’s easier to give up, it might even bit totally right to give up – but not giving up is really what test’s the limits of your desire to do something that’s important and to change something that’s worthwhile. If you believe it’s worthwhile, then that’s all that matters – you’ll find a way to make it worthwhile. It’s not usually the belief that is wrong – it’s the implementation, the strategy and learning when to change it that is all part of the challenge. Wanting to leave a stamp when you’re no longer here is something totally amazing and while I would argue everyone leaves a stamp in their own way – with their families and friends – it’s probably the magnitude of the stamp to those you aren’t connected too that really makes it different.

Believing and implementing are two vastly different concepts – the belief that you want to invent a teleporting machine is completely antithetical to the implementation of it. But the most important aspect is that there is a belief that it’s possible – because without that, you’ve nothing. 150 years ago – flight was deemed impossible. And today we can’t imagine a world without it. Then of course when flight was first invented – it was never dreamed we could fly from Australia to London in under 1 hour - and yet in the next 20 years that will become a reality. Stephen Hawkins has already theoretically proven that time-travel is possible – by moving forward in time at great speeds and then returning back to where you started. As he describes it

“Imagine that the train left the station on January 1, 2050. It circles Earth over and over again for 100 years before finally coming to a halt on New Year’s Day, 2150. The passengers will have only lived one week because time is slowed down that much inside the train. When they got out they’d find a very different world from the one they’d left. In one week they’d have travelled 100 years into the future. Of course, building a train that could reach such a speed is quite impossible. But we have built something very like the train at the world’s largest particle accelerator at CERN in Geneva, Switzerland.

Sounds crazy right ? In 200 years it won’t be crazy at all. Just like 100 years ago it was crazy to think we could fly – now we not only do it, but we’re on the verge of doing it hypersonically. 50 years ago it was deemed impossible to travel the earth anywhere within 1 hour and just when Mars seemed like some distant planet – we now have high resolution imagery of it. Big breakthroughs need big thinking, and big thinking needs belief and implementation. There’s no magic in any of this. No secret recipe and no ability to simply ask someone else to stand in your shoes and take over – it’s hard, it’s challenging and it’s a slog that many simply don’t need in their lives. The ability to question oneself and determine whether they want it or not is one of the most pivotal aspects of starting, building, continuing and remaining at a company. You challenge yourself, you challenge your values and ultimately you challenge your world and those around you. It’s not easy and it was never designed to be. The greatest thinkers of our time where shunned, persecuted and denied basic rights because of their advanced beliefs which are now mostly realities. Who are you to question teleportation ? It’s not if, but when.

Indeed, Stephen Cohen of Palantir – a company which by it’s own mission statement is enabling people

with the right technology and enough data, [to] solve hard problems and change the world for the better. For organizations addressing many of today’s most critical challenges, the necessary information is already out there, waiting to be understood.

 And that’s awesome. But what’s more awesome is his comments on attracting the right people -

 We tend to massively underestimate the compounding returns of intelligence. As humans, we need to solve big problems. If you graduate Stanford at 22 and Google recruits you, you’ll work a 9-to-5. It’s probably more like an 11-to-3 in terms of hard work. They’ll pay well. It’s relaxing. But what they are actually doing is paying you to accept a much lower intellectual growth rate. When you recognize that intelligence is compounding, the cost of that missing long-term compounding is enormous. They’re not giving you the best opportunity of your life. Then a scary thing can happen: You might realize one day that you’ve lost your competitive edge. You won’t be the best anymore. You won’t be able to fall in love with new stuff. Things are cushy where you are. You get complacent and stall. So, run your prospective engineering hires through that narrative. Then show them the alternative: working at your startup.

Challenging people in their environment helps to challenge the world. The adage complacency breeds contempt rings true everywhere. You’re comfortable, you don’t want to change, you’re happy in your world and perhaps that’s totally ok. But nothing changes if you don’t want too. Working on big complex problems is hard and in my view hard is good because without hard we only have easy and then what is their to challenge ? If everything was easy – we would have solved teleportation already right ? We haven’t because it’s hard, not because it’s impossible. It’s hard in the current realm of understanding, not in the entire realm of it and that’s the way it should be approached.

Indeed, the associational context of word understanding in your brain aligns you to comprehension of the word. In my mind, any problem on the planet is no different than such a simple association – we just haven’t discovered a way to do it yet. The most complex problems are simple once they’ve been solved and in many generations from now they will appear in educational literature and be taught at schools. Problems by their nature are meant to be solved – what lies in the middle – the how, the what and the why are all that’s standing between connecting the two together. The sum of the parts connects the whole and sometimes it can be the other way around.

Teleportation ? “Easy” – they will be the words uttered 300 years from now from a 16 year old physics student at school. Think big means we solve big important problems – it simply a matter of application, belief and implementation. Nothings hard, it’s only our interpretation of hard just like any of the associations you automatically make are easy. Making hard, easy, is what makes being a human being relevant.

 

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An Amazing Speech. One Worth Watching.

13/11/2011

Tim Davis Once every now and then – you discover a video on YouTube that really inspires you. This one, a speech in Charlie Chaplins 1940 Movie – The Great Dictator – is more prevelant in this day and age than ever. It’s amazing that almost 70 years on – it’s still touches on issues that humanity hasn’t solved. Despite all our advances, we still can relate to a speech more than 70 years old – from a man renown as a comedian – not one known for inspiration.

It speaks of hope, of greed, of the changes in the world that were so prevalent in 1940 and some would indeed argue that has been present in our current generation. Some of the most amazing speeches were written so long ago – and yet humanity seems to forget our history so quickly. This is one worth watching and one worth sharing and saving for your children to see.

Here is the full text:

I’m sorry but I don’t want to be an Emperor – that’s not my business – I don’t want to rule or conquer anyone. I should like to help everyone if possible, jew, gentile, black man, white. We all want to help one another, human beings are like that.

We all want to live by each other’s happiness, not by each other’s misery. We don’t want to hate and despise one another. In this world there is room for everyone and the good earth is rich and can provide for everyone.

The way of life can be free and beautiful.

But we have lost the way.

Greed has poisoned men’s souls – has barricaded the world with hate; has goose-stepped us into misery and bloodshed.

We have developed speed but we have shut ourselves in: machinery that gives abundance has left us in want. Our knowledge has made us cynical, our cleverness hard and unkind. We think too much and feel too little: More than machinery we need humanity; More than cleverness we need kindness and gentleness. Without these qualities, life will be violent and all will be lost.

The aeroplane and the radio have brought us closer together. The very nature of these inventions cries out for the goodness in men, cries out for universal brotherhood for the unity of us all. Even now my voice is reaching millions throughout the world, millions of despairing men, women and little children, victims of a system that makes men torture and imprison innocent people. To those who can hear me I say “Do not despair”.

The misery that is now upon us is but the passing of greed, the bitterness of men who fear the way of human progress: the hate of men will pass and dictators die and the power they took from the people, will return to the people and so long as men die liberty will never perish…

Soldiers – don’t give yourselves to brutes, men who despise you and enslave you – who regiment your lives, tell you what to do, what to think and what to feel, who drill you, diet you, treat you as cattle, as cannon fodder.

Don’t give yourselves to these unnatural men, machine men, with machine minds and machine hearts. You are not machines. You are not cattle. You are men. You have the love of humanity in your hearts. You don’t hate – only the unloved hate. Only the unloved and the unnatural. Soldiers – don’t fight for slavery, fight for liberty.

In the seventeenth chapter of Saint Luke it is written ” the kingdom of God is within man ” – not one man, nor a group of men – but in all men – in you, the people.

You the people have the power, the power to create machines, the power to create happiness. You the people have the power to make life free and beautiful, to make this life a wonderful adventure. Then in the name of democracy let’s use that power – let us all unite. Let us fight for a new world, a decent world that will give men a chance to work, that will give you the future and old age and security.

By the promise of these things, brutes have risen to power, but they lie. They do not fulfil their promise, they never will. Dictators free themselves but they enslave the people. Now let us fight to fulfil that promise. Let us fight to free the world, to do away with national barriers, do away with greed, with hate and intolerance. Let us fight for a world of reason, a world where science and progress will lead to all men’s happiness.

Soldiers – in the name of democracy, let us all unite!

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Charity and Pay It Forward

16/09/2010

Tim DavisMost of the posts you will read on this blog relate to either technology, law or business and I’d thought I would change that today by discussing something in the realm of charitable endeavors that I believe in. Charity – by definition – is the act of giving to those in need who are non-relations of the giver. Relative to this definition, this means giving to a family member is not a charitable undertaking as such an act would been done regardless. No, charity must have that critical variable of non-relation to be truly a charitable undertaking. In social psychology, this typically raises the presumptive  notion of a charitable gift economy such that a valuable item or service is provided to a non-related entity without any explicit agreement or quid pro quo – that is, there is no consideration provided by the donee to the donor.

The question I have often asked myself is – does this work and is it effective? Are charity’s truly an optimum and effective methodology of providing assistance ? Evidently, the question must be answered in the affirmative – charitable institutions are by enlarge extremely important organisations to assist those in need – not because of the wealth they generate from donor’s but rather because they are effective distributive mechanisms which have large networks that are able to dispense resources to those in need quickly. In my opinion, most large charitable institutions should idealistically therefore be modeled on concepts two primary concepts. Firstly, that of pure altruism – the selfless concern for the welfare of others by being motivated to act without any reward – and secondly, that of duty –  the evident concern for others juxtaposed against the rationalization of one’s moral being. Indeed, I write should be because while many charitable organisations are hugely reliant on these two principles - they are by no means definitive.

Most charitable organisations required large donations to survive and only the second limb mentioned above is the one capable of manipulation – the moral being. In this light, there is no question that game theory is an important element to charitable donation paradox both the perspective of the charity and from donor’s. That is, the probability of a donor providing a valuable item or service to a charitable organisation is motivated and positively correlated by the choices of others around them. For example, this is highly prevalent in the corporate donor sector – a business will become a donor only in response to another business becoming a donor with the hope that their net benefit from the donation will ultimately be more positive than the first-to-move. Similarly, one person donating because another person is donating in order to achieve some greater outcome benefit. Evidently, such notions of giving are a considerable distance from those first core principle mentioned in the prior paragraph but are none-the-less a critical facet of the charitable-donor relationship due to the corporate sector typically donating the largest sums of money. Unfortunately however, while you might think this has a positive net benefit – it can also lead to a reduction in overall donations since game theory is an entirely reactionary model. This infers that one’s intentions and strategy are modified by others – which can lead to a reduction in net benefit if the first-to-move donates considerably less than what the second-to-move would have otherwise donated.

You might be thinking ? So what – the charity now otherwise has money it didn’t have prior – net win, game over. Evidently, yes – you’re right – there is a benefit to the charity in the short-term but the negative effect to the business can affect its long term donation strategy as the reactionary model can provide a disincentive to donate at all. This can result in non-donations if a nash equilibrium is reached – that is, each player knows all of the others players moves and changes in strategy’s such that no player wins. Of course, the primary assumption is that the business wants a net benefit – an argument correlated to shareholder responsibility, profitability and countless other factors – but primarily one which is answered, again, in the affirmative. In this regard and perhaps most importantly in respect to disincentive effects of the donation process, most corporate donation scenarios result in a pareto optimilaity situation such that one company will always be better off and one will always be worst off which can often lead to non-donations. Imagine, first-to-move Company A donates $1,000 and is a hugely profitable enterprise while second-to-move Company B donates $10,000 and is only small – the net benefit to B greatly outweighs that of A leading to A to question it’s donation strategy or being forced to donate more in response – again, a win to the Charity in the short-term but a potentially negative long term affect due to the circumstantial outcome to Company A. To put this in perspective, many of you may be familiar with the age old Prisoners Dilemma question:

Two suspects are arrested by the police. The police have insufficient evidence for a conviction, and, having separated the prisoners, visit each of them to offer the same deal. If one testifies for the prosecution against the other (defects) and the other remains silent (cooperates), the defector goes free and the silent accomplice receives the full 10-year sentence. If both remain silent, both prisoners are sentenced to only six months in jail for a minor charge. If each betrays the other, each receives a five-year sentence. Each prisoner must choose to betray the other or to remain silent. Each one is assured that the other would not know about the betrayal before the end of the investigation. How should the prisoners act?

There are 4 outcomes – both silent for 6 months, A silent/B speaks – A 10 years/B free, B silent /A speaks – B 10 years/A free, A speaks/B speaks – 5 years. Evidently, the zero-sum-game presented is that neither should speak – but of course human nature is to question the strategy of the other and conclude that both are better off to speak than be silent since both are worse off if only one speaks. Such a scenario can easily be extrapolated to Company A and B above such that donations tend to be optimal if companies seek to act in equilibrium in donating – both potentially achieving net benefits without damaging the other while still positively benefiting the charity.

Of course, the common denominator in all this is the attribution to the economic value of the gift being provided and the analysis of game theory to donations. Evidently, if everyone were to follow the notion of altruism and duty then none of these such problems would occur. Indeed, while there is no doubt that large charities are needed and I donate to them - I truly do prefer the concept of Pay It Forward which is a merging of the two primary concepts mentioned above. For those that have not seen the movie of pay it forward – it is essentially a notion of altruistic signalling. That is, one temporarily reduces their value by increasing another’s with the expectation that the other will act in a similar way at some point in the future to a separate person again – this absolutely ensures that the flow of fitness travels directly from the one individual to the another. The notion of value is no way limited and can be simply measured in time or by purely economic means. Benjamin Franklin adequately framed such a notion in 1784

When you [...] meet with another honest Man in similar Distress, you must pay me by lending this Sum to him; enjoining him to discharge the Debt by a like operation, when he shall be able, and shall meet with another opportunity. I hope it may thus go thro’ many hands, before it meets with a Knave that will stop its Progress. This is a trick of mine for doing a deal of good with a little money.

Of course, there are two fundamental flaws in the pay it forward model such that firstly, there must be a large and indefinite number of opportunities which exist regardless of form – and secondly, there will be those that simply do not pay it forward. I would argue that the first is not a large problem since there really are an indefinite number of problems to solve in the world while the second is highly correlated to duty. The primary reason I like the pay it forward model is that it is effective and morally gratifying – you perform a task directly for someone, and they in turn can provide a benefit to someone else. A simple example is purchasing a coffee for the person behind you and leaving a pay it forward note on the counter – the social morality and duty of the concept then falls into their hands – a moral obligation then associated to karma and the seemingly moral psychological and ‘karmic’ risk of not performing the act.

In conclusion, while this post seemingly has meddled together a number of different concepts – I think both options have their place. Large charitable organisations dispense to those who can otherwise not be reached and attack fundamental social fabric problems at a broader scale – while the pay it forward model is a direct model that provides immediate results to the donee. If more people chose to pay it forward, then I have no doubt that many more people would begin to donate to a greater number of charities purely from being a recipient of an act of random kindness for no apparent reason. It really is entirely uplifting to both grant and receive a gift – no matter how insignificant – from a total stranger. Try it yourself.

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The Pale Blue Dot

13/04/2010

Tim DavisVery often, a video comes along which puts life in perspective. Luckily, the medium that is YouTube allows us to visit such moments in the mere click of a mouse button. The video I stumbled across while surfing around on YouTube was Carl Sagan’s – A Pale Blue Dot. A video devoted in some sense to the art of astronomy but in another – the tiny significance of the earth and all that humanity has done to it in the wider perspective of our universe.

Indeed, once you view this video – the enormity of the universe is vastly apparent and perhaps also the fragility of the human experience and all the sadness that the human race brings upon itself. Sadly, no other known animal seeks the narcissistic triumphs and extreme destruction that human kind does and while we have brought unspeakable wonders and advances upon ourselves – we have equivalently brought unbearable pain. I encourage you to view the video below and share it with your friends. In my opinion, the more people that put themselves in perspective – the better the world will become.

Text: The spacecraft was a long way from home.

I thought it would be a good idea, just after Saturn, to have them take one last glance homeward. From Saturn, the Earth would appear too small for Voyager to make out any detail. Our planet would be just a point of light, a lonely pixel hardly distinguishable from the other points of light Voyager would see: nearby planets, far off suns. But precisely because of the obscurity of our world thus revealed, such a picture might be worth having.

It had been well understood by the scientists and philosophers of classical antiquity that the Earth was a mere point in a vast, encompassing cosmos—but no one had ever seen it as such. Here was our first chance, and perhaps also our last for decades to come.

So, here they are: a mosaic of squares laid down on top of the planets in a background smattering of more distant stars. Because of the reflection of sunlight off the spacecraft, the Earth seems to be sitting in a beam of light, as if there were some special significance to this small world; but it’s just an accident of geometry and optics. There is no sign of humans in this picture: not our reworking of the Earth’s surface; not our machines; not ourselves. From this vantage point, our obsession with nationalisms is nowhere in evidence. We are too small. On the scale of worlds, humans are inconsequential: a thin film of life on an obscure and solitary lump of rock and metal.

Consider again that dot. That’s here. That’s home. That’s us. On it, everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you’ve ever heard of, every human being who ever was lived out their lives. The aggregate of all our joys and sufferings; thousands of confident religions, ideologies and economic doctrines; every hunter and forager; every hero and coward; every creator and destroyer of civilizations; every king and peasant, every young couple in love; every mother and father; hopeful child; inventor and explorer; every teacher of morals; every corrupt politician; every supreme leader; every superstar; every saint and sinner in the history of our species, lived there—on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.

The Earth is a very small stage in a vast cosmic arena.

Think of the endless cruelties visited by the inhabitants of one corner of this pixel on the scarcely distinguishable inhabitants of some other corner. How frequent their misunderstandings; how eager they are to kill one another; how fervent their hatreds. Think of the rivers of blood spilled by all those generals and emperors so that in glory and triumph they could become the momentary masters of a fraction of a dot. Our posturings, our imagined self-importance, the delusion that we have some privileged position in the universe, are challenged by this point of pale light.

Our planet is a lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark. In our obscurity—in all this vastness—there is no hint that help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves. Like it or not, for the moment, the Earth is where we make our stand.

It has been said that astronomy is a humbling and character-building experience. There is perhaps no better demonstration of the folly of human conceits than this distant image of our tiny world. It underscores our responsibility to deal more kindly with one another, and to preserve and cherish the only home we’ve ever known.

The pale blue dot.

This is an excerpt from Carl Sagan’s Pale Blue Dot: A Vision of the Human Future in Space. It talks about the photo of the same name, Pale Blue Dot, taken by Voyager I on February 14, 1990.

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