The Society of Oversimplification

by Matt on Friday, November 15, 2013 at 5:45 pm

It's been a while. I'm not dead though (yet). There have been some changes. Maybe I'll update you, the reader, on that later. Maybe not, I'm incredibly lazy. Anyway, I want to talk about complexity today. Specifically, I want to talk about how our society oversimplifies complex things and how this makes everyone feel like a genius. I could write for days about this problem, but I am going to focus on just a few examples: poverty, homelessness, violence, weight loss, and scientific discoveries.

Our society presents poverty as something that is the fault of the poor slob who is poor (no pun intended, but now that I see what I did there, I am totally going to take credit). Why doesn't that guy save some money, why doesn't he go back to school, why doesn't she stop having children, why doesn't he get a job. But when you take a closer look and really examine the situation, you realize it isn't that simple. Not even close. I am not an expert on poverty, but this is what I have observed. Poor people are poor, their parents were poor, their grand parents were poor. They are uneducated and don't have access to a quality education. They don't have gainful employment available to them, they aren't barely getting by, they just aren't getting by. They have no extra money to save. The reasons behind poverty are complex and many. I don't want to claim that poor people are not partially responsible for their station in life, but it would be wrong to point the finger at them alone.

That took longer than I thought, let's skip to weight loss and then wrap things up. Let me know if this sounds familiar, "that fat person needs to lose weight, they should eat less, eat more healthy, and exercise, there is no excuse for being fat." This is wrong. Yes, said fat person could do these things and lose weight, but the situation is far more complex than that. Far far more complex. The factors contributing to any individual's weight are numerous. They may range from lack of knowledge or education, lack of motivation, poor diet, poor fitness, and/or numerous emotional issues. Many "skinny" people find themselves with many of the same issues, but they cope differently or the genetic genie has handed them a nicer set of DNA than their more portly brethren. In short, being fat is more complicated then you may think.

On the flip side of this "fat people" thing are the people actively trying to lose weight and the people trying to sell them something to help them achieve their goals. "If you just eliminate carbs from your diet and buy my book, you will be super skinny like me". Yes weight loss can be boiled down to, "eat less than you put out" but that is no where near the whole story. Nearly every weight loss program claims to be super simple and easy, but losing weight isn't simple and easy and nothing works for everyone. Anyway, I am losing focus here and starting to ramble.

Basically, almost nothing is as simple as it seems. Look deeper, don't jump to conclusions. Don't assume given a similar situation you would fare better. The whole idea of "if it was me, I would..." is completely absurd, I don't have time to go into that now though. So until next time, stay cool. No wait, until next time, may your Mondays be Tuesdays and your Thursdays be Fridays. Yeah that.

Tagged as: simplicity, oversimplification, complexity

My Rules for Efficiency When Dining Out

by Matt on Tuesday, December 21, 2010 at 6:10 pm

I have four rules for efficient dining out. These rules have been developed over years of dining out with co-workers, friends, and family. The rules are designed to make dining out in groups as efficient and painless as possible. The rules are as follows, they or ordered in the order you will most likely need to invoke them:

Rule #1

When choosing a place to dine out as a group, be proactive in suggesting a place to eat. Not being the first to make a good suggestion, could result in eating at a stake house. In my experience, the first suggestion (if it is a good one) is generally the one that is chosen. Even if it is not chosen, it generally directs the discussion and a similar destination is chosen. When going out in a group multiple times, be sure to make a different suggestion each time you dine out to keep your suggestions relevant.

Rule #2

After arriving at the restaurant, do not delay ordering if at least about 80% of your party is present. This rule will not apply if the person you are waiting for is the guest of honor. This rule can also be tricky to apply if you are not the leader or "alpha" of the group. If this is the case, be prepared to "suggest" going ahead with the ordering process to get the discussion started before the waiter arrives.

Rule #3

If everyone has had access to a menu for a reasonable amount of time, say "yes" when the waiter asks if you are ready to order. If you do not do this, inevitably, after a short pause, the waiter will say, "I'll give you a few more minutes", and delay your meal. This hurts dining efficiency. Also note, you need to actually be ready to order at this time. This rule can also be tricky to apply when you are not the party leader or group "alpha". You can "help" the group to be ready by asking people what they intend to order before the waiter arrives.

Even if your party is not ready to order, having the waiter take their order will force them to make a decision and move your dining experience along. Since your party should have had a reasonable amount of time to review the menu, this should not be too much of a problem for them. Note, if rule #2 above was applied, rule #3 can generally be directly applied as well.

Rule #4

When in doubt, split up the tab. If you will have a bunch of complex splits and groups for your bill, split everything up and re-combine as necessary when it is time to pay. This is not always an option, but it can help make things simpler when it is available.

That's all for now. If I think of more, I will add them. Follow these rules for efficient dining. If among friends, feel free to loudly cite each rule by number as you invoke it.

Note: Currently my commenting system is broken. I don't have any immediate plans to fix it. If you would like to leave me a comment, you can send it to @codemaker on twitter.

Tagged as: dining, efficiency, dining out, rules

The Mobile Phone Caste System

by Matt on Thursday, September 24, 2009 at 7:01 pm

This is something I was just thinking about and it was too long to go on twitter. Actually, I have been thinking about this for a while. The idea is simple. In the mobile phone space, I believe there are different classes of devices. I believe that certain phones can be grouped together by their potential utility for a given user. The mobile phone industry has loosely formed three classes from lowest/least utility to highest/most utility as follows: dumb phones, feature phones, and smart phones. There are some loosely defined criteria that form each class or caste in my terminology. I mostly agree with this system, but along with the mobile phone industry's loosely defined criteria, I add an additional, even more loosely defined metric: my gut.

My Mobile Phone Gut

When I say my gut, I am talking about intuition. I have a certain intuition when it comes to technology. It is not always correct, but it has served me fairly well thus far. What follows, is a rough attempt at explaining how I, via my gut, group mobile phones into different castes. We will start with the lowest level and move up.

Dumb Phones

The prototypical dumb phone is the Motorola RAZR. I don't know what the latest RAZR devices are capable of (mostly because they are below me), but if I had to guess, I would say they have a basic clam shell design (flip phone), a low resolution screen, and 2mp or lower camera with no flash or auto focus. On the software front, they are probably running some proprietary Motorola OS (or sourced from another company), that has basic functions like making calls, text and mms messaging, limited web browsing, limited instant messaging, an address book, an alarm clock, a stop watch, and maybe a basic media player. The fine details are not important for "gut reactions". The mobile industry's classification of a dumb phone is quite diverse and you will fine phones with varying levels of utility in the dumb phone category. It is easier to describe the dumb phone by explaining what it lacks than explaining what it does have. Simply put, dumb phones lack advanced functionality, expandability, and longevity.

Advanced functions such as a full HTML web browser, applications such as built in google search or live search (now bing), social networking, a robust selection of games, streaming music services, and maps and navigation software may not be found in these phones. Also, most of these devices do not give the user the option to add things to the phone, rather it be custom mp3 ring tones or additional games and applications. Additionally, these devices do not generally grow as the user's needs grow and this causes the user to replace them after using them for relatively short periods of time. If a phone lacks any of these features, then my gut reactions is "that's a dumb phone" (in more than one sense).

Now let's move on to feature phones.

Feature Phones

Most users would probably be satisfied with what a feature phone provides. The Samsung Instinct on Sprint and the LG Dare are good examples of feature phones. Feature phones usually provide all of the features that dumb phones have, with some additional advanced features. They often include full HTML web browsers, mapping and navigation applications, qwerty keyboards, social networking, access to more robust media functionality, expandable memory, limited email support, and a limited selection of applications. This is enough for most people. Feature phones often lack expandability and longevity.

Telling a feature phone from a dumb phone is usually pretty easy. Telling a feature phone from a smart phone may be difficult for the untrained gut.

Smart Phones

Smart phones are phones containing advanced functionality, expandability, and longevity. Smart phones include features such as robust email support, robust media support, advanced web browsers often including javascript support, advanced application support, advanced calendaring support, qwerty keyboards, and upgradable operating systems. Feature wise, smart phones are often comparable to feature phones, the key to understanding the difference is the longevity and expandability of a device. Smart phones often have robust support for third party applications. Also the generally receive major operating system upgrades several years after the device was first released. Also smart phones usually do a good job of meeting a user's expanding needs.

Brand recognition is the easiest way to tell a smart phone from a feature phone. Beyond that, application support is the next indicator. Usually, features phones do not have a robust selection of third party applications while most smart phones do. Another indicator is the web browser. Go to your favorite website on the phone if the phone cannot render the page, then it probably is not a smart phone (note, most smart phones do not currently support flash). Another thing to check is email support. Will the phone work with any email address? Not just major providers such as yahoo, aol, and google. If not, it is probably not a smart phone. When trying to determine a feature phone from a smart phone, do not read down the spec sheet and compare features and specs. This can lead you astray. Trust your gut, not the spec sheet. :) Also, you may have mixed results asking in store personal. Some of them know what they are doing, but a lot of them do not. Once again, go with your gut. That is part of the reason you need to have a well developed gut, supposed "facts" and the people telling them to you, can lead you wrong.

Examples of smart phones are the Palm Pre, any Blackberry device, the Apple iPhone, Nokia devices running symbian or maemo (the E71, N97, N900 are examples), Windows Mobile devices (HTC Snap, Touch Pro, Touch Diamond), and most phones running the android operating system (T-Mobile G1 and myTouch 3G, HTC Hero). All of these devices, while having different strengths and weaknesses, have advanced features, support third party applications, and are quite expandable.

Why Any of this Matters

I am of the mindset that everyone should have a smart phone. Even if you don't demand a lot from your mobile device, smart phones can generally scale down to your level. In other words, what you don't use, does not get in your way, but it is there should you need or want it one day. If you choose to embrace it, your smart phone can stream line certain aspects of your life. You can keep track of appointments in your smart phone's calendar, read and respond to your email on the go, keep track of your various social networks, use mapping and navigation applications to minimize the chances of you getting lost, and maybe make use of some niche application like a recipe sharing service. Also, as new mobile technologies and services are created, chances are that your smart phone will be able to take advantage of them.

Some find that they cannot justify the cost of owning a smart phone. If you don't want to pay for a data plan, then you probably don't need a smart phone. Outside of that, a smart phone generally won't cost you as much as you think. The average smart phone costs $200 on contract (there should be no reason for you to buy a phone off contract). Average that over 24 months (the length of a 2 year contract), and you get about $8 a month. This is a small fraction of the total cost of owning a mobile phone. Currently, the cheapest voice, data, and messaging plans for mobile phones cost around $70 a month. Over 24 months, that comes to $1680, add the $200 cost of the phone and you get $1880 as the total cost. Another important detail to remember is that you will very well keep your smart phone for the entire duration of your two year contract and possibly longer. You would probably replace a standard dumb phone sooner than that, which increases the cost vs not having to replace your smart phone at all.

Of course, there are a few reasons I can think of for not owning a smart phone, mainly if you think you will lose or break your phone, don't invest in a smart phone. Also if you don't want to pay for a data plan, then don't invest in a smart phone. Outside of that, get a smart phone. There are almost no reasons to buy a feature phone over a smart phone and virtually no reasons to buy a dumb phone over a smart phone.

I wrote this up after realizing that people don't realize that not all phones are created equal. A lot of people can't tell the difference between a feature phone and a smart phone. Hopefully, this helped. If you still need help deciding on a phone, give me a call or send me an email and I'll help you out. :)

If you want to discuss this article with me, contact me via twitter.

Tagged as: palm pre, phones, BlackBerry, smart phone, iphone, web os, smartphone, android, mobile phones

Going Green!

by Matt on Friday, April 3, 2009 at 2:40 pm

So I said to him, "Go green? Matt-land has been green from the beginning and still is!". After that he just kinda looked at me...

Tagged as: going green, green

Matt's Money Tips, Part 1

by Matt on Thursday, February 26, 2009 at 6:43 pm

When dining out at Macaroni Grill, request an extra loaf of free bread to go. Bring this extra bread to work with you the next day to supplement your lunch. Snack on it throughout your day.

Tagged as: money, saving money
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