Monday, December 18, 2006


Once you understand what makes humans tick, it's easy to figure out why they do the things that they do.

I'm a vegetarian. It was not easy to become one, and it's not easy being one - not because I miss meat (I don't), but because I have to design a healthy diet, read labels, ask questions of the contents of whatever I'm eating, and put up with people giving me shit about it. It requires more input and more concern on my part.

But why should not being a vegetarian be easier? Humans evolved to live on the plains of Africa, in small bands of hunters and gatherers. Our noses and brains therefore evolved to concern themselves with the things we would have needed to eat to survive. Rotting meat emits two chemicals: putricine and cadaverine. Great smell if you're a fly, bad smell if you want fresh meat. And humans do, but only if it's cooked. Mmmm, charred animal flesh, doesn't that just excite your nose and make you salivate? It does? Like a dog even? Yes, because, like dogs, humans are hard-wired to crave certain foods, and to salivate in preparation for eating them. Eating (cooked!) meat was a tasty treat every now and again, certainly not as frequent as most Americans eat meat, and certainly not in such proportions. Meat contains a lot of protein, and having such a rich source of it available was a prize indeed. You had to get a little hunting group and go out and chase the animal and bring the carcass back to camp. It involved some time, effort, and planning. A well-earned meaty morsel. Today, in this age of high-density feedlots and fast food burger joints, it's real easy to get meat. It's practically coming out of people's ears (or clogged arteries). Someone like me who doesn't eat meat gets funny looks. "Where do you get your protein?" they lament. I doubt that many of them are genuinely concerned with my protein intake (it's fine, thank you); what they are really saying is "is there something wrong with you that you don't eat what you were hard-wired to like?"

After several years of being a vegetarian and reading labels, I started to notice how much of what nutrient was in each item of food I consumed. I started to notice a pattern: the crap food had a bunch of crap in it, and offered very little in the way of good nutrients. The good food, though slightly more expensive, contained far more of the nutrients I needed, and a lot less of the bad stuff that I didn't. Partially hydrogenated oils are horrible. Don't eat them. They have no place within our diets and are essentially plastic oils. Food manufacturers (!) love it because it can be altered in any way to make it different consistencies. They can put some in snack cakes to make them soft and plush for months, or in sports drinks to make sure the salt and sugar bits mix thoroughly in the water. Oh so many options, and so simple an ingredient. Such a high profit margin for these companies that are selling people waxy plastic for so damn cheap.

High fructose corn syrup, aka diabetes syrup, can also be found in many manufactured (!) foods. Back in the days of gathering, finding some tasty fruit on a tree was a great way to imbibe vitamins and nutrients. Our brains evolved to taste the fruit as sweet, because it contained something called sucrose. Sucrose is two kinds of sugars: glucose and fructose. Glucose is great stuff. Good for the brain (and thus for studying), good for making all sorts of materials your body can use. Unfortunately, glucose is not really all that sweet to our taste buds. When we taste the sucrose in fruit, we are tasting the fructose, not so much the glucose. So, it turns out that high FRUCTOSE corn syrup activates our taste buds and makes us think we need to eat the treat to get nutrients. Food manufacturers will process corn, separating the fructose from the rest of it. Fructose is dirt cheap to make in this way, and because it is relatively rare in fruits in nature, we have a great sensitivity to it. What a cruel joke that most of the crap that contains high fructose corn syrup is practically worthless besides, and offers us very little other than a higher risk of diabetes. Read some labels and you'll see the dynamic duo of partially hydrogenated oil and high fructose corn syrup in many processed food. Why do we eat these things? Several reasons. First off, snack cakes are tasty (or so we are led to believe), and having all this junk in them makes them so cheap it makes it hard for us to resist. The fructose convinces us that we've just consumed something healthy, like a fruit, and so we feel satisfied. Eating real fruit after that, which does not contain such high concentrations of fructose, pales in comparison. We'd rather have the snack cake because we are hard-wired to want what it contains. It's easy because we evolved to like some of the things in it. It's easy because we are trained growing up to spend the least amount of money to satisfy our hunger. An unhealthy tasty treat for cheap; or a more expensive, healthy-looking meal that may require some preparation. Doesn't really matter, because if you eat meat, everything else is just filler anyway.

If you don't know what memes are and how they work, don't bother reading this anymore and go look up the word on wikipedia. I need you to know what they are for this next section.

Memes of any kind can be incorporated into our minds and become part of our understanding of reality. The ones that are the most successful, though, are the ones that get the strongest emotional response. When I rant this to people in real life, I use two examples: xianity and historical materialism. Ah, religion. So comforting, so lovely, so fulfilling. Historical what? Materialism? Isn't that that atheist non-emotional tripe that explains much of how our society operates but has very little appeal to me? Pick an emotion, and you can find some story, fable, or facet of religion (especially xianity) that activates it. Love: Jesus loves me! Anger: How dare those dirty Jews/Romans kill Jesus!? Happiness: Isn't it wonderful that god is our friend and we get to be with him forever and ever when we die? You get the idea. Very little comes out of historical materialism. It is dry and boring (not to me), doesn't activate or excite our emotions. I've been reading Carl Sagan's Demon Haunted World finally, and some disturbing statistics indicate that far more people believe in silly things (aliens, Atlantis, etc) than real things (quantum mechanics, DNA, etc). Knowing what we do of humans and memes, why is this so? Because it is easy.

Two-thirds of our speech is gossip, that is, talking shit about other people. I have seen it used for its intended purpose in coops. Sitting in my friend's room at the coop, a fly on the wall (I'm normally very talkative), observing two splendid uses of gossip. A group of coopers were first talking about someone they didn't like, someone who didn't do their labour. They were ragging on him, making fun of him, dissin' him, all of it. He was lazy, smelly, dirty, messy, a moocher, a liar, etc. The group opinion of this person was definitely pushed down a notch. Another person was then discussed. This person was hard-working, friendly, shared copious amounts of marijuana (might as well be coop currency), and was generally well-liked. He did his labour and helped others do theirs. He was praised and admired and adored, even though he wasn't there. His social standing definitely went up a notch. We evolved to use gossip as a means to keep the group together and members working. If your survival was dependent on other people (it was back in the day, and still is today, despite what some "individualists" will claim), you didn't want some slack off jerk to mooch off everyone's hard labour. You'd want some way to let him know what you think of him. "Oh, boo-hoo, someone is making fun of me! Big deal." Except that may mean you don't get food, which means your ass is going to get really skinny and then die. Better cooperate and garner the trust and admiration of your peers. This was also the way to become a leader, unlike today when all you need is rich and influential parents, a C average at a pretentious university, and a teleprompter. So gossip is a useful mechanism. Except when you have print media and grocery check-out aisles. Then gossip is about people that you know, but who certainly don't know you. Famous TV and movie actors are plastered on tabloids and other silly magazines. "Did you see what she wore to the Emmies?!" Who gives a shit? Well, lots of people. We like talking about familiar people, people whom everyone knows. Everyone knows Tom Cruise, everyone knows Brittney Spears. It's EASY to talk about these people with others, even though we don't really know them personally. In fact, it's so EASY to talk about them, that we really don't need to talk about anything else. Certainly not anything useful or stimulating.

When social groups get complex, that is, when there are more and more members, it becomes increasingly difficult to make decisions democratically. An amoeba that wants to go in three hundred different directions is likely to dissociate. To keep groups of monkeys together, sometimes the captain element is needed, a strong executive that can make decisions that count for the rest of the group. We evolved to have two distinct behaviour patterns: we crave democracy, and yet long for someone to tell us what to do. As a young child, we have no clue what is going on, no grasp on reality and the world and how it all works. We must rely on older, more established adults to teach and guide us. It would not be evolutionarily advantageous to question the authority or wisdom of our elders constantly. Sure, a well-meaning "why?" or "what's that?" are welcome, but if the kid just insisted on playing with that sharp flint knife, they were likely going to get hurt. Roaming too far from camp was likely to make the little explorer a little meal for some hungry predator. At the same time, and not just as we get older, we develop the understanding that we are a vital part of the group, with our own unique desires and feelings. We feel that our experience is valuable and worthwhile. What we have to say is important, too. Small groups operate better with these two contradictory tendencies because leaders have much less control and power. The voices of the members of the group are stronger because they come into direct contact with the leader. GWB wouldn't have lasted five minutes as a leader of a hunter-gatherer group. But today, with mass communications and media, with well-established culture and language (thanks to writing), our framework for understanding our place in society is developed along the "worship the leader" lines, instead of the "voice your opinion" track. We hardly get to voice our concerns in school, very little at home or in public. Children rarely experience democracy for themselves firsthand. Instead, we get washed-down examples of it with well-meaning definitions, directed and controlled by adults who themselves probably never experienced democracy for themselves either. Almost our entire economy is composed of little units that are run like a pyramid scheme, with very little input coming from the wider base sections. But why should the tendency be towards authoritarian methods of control, as opposed to more democratic methods? Because power that is unquestioned is wielded better (more effectively) than power that is. It is easier for us to live under someone else's control than to have to make decisions on our own or as a group. Making decisions and compromises as a group, with each member participating and contributing, is very difficult. It involves learning how to operate in a group differently than we do now. Of course, the main reason is that the groups we consider units are much too big to be run effectively democratically. But this in and of itself is difficult to undo. Once a tyrant gains control, he/she is very unlikely to give it up, and using their position of power, they can wrestle and grab for more power, that is, control over more people. It is a tendency of all institutions of any kind. Given any idea or cause, over time and with enough people, a group committed to this cause will mutate and morph into something that is almost completely counter to its original tenants. The Catholic church was supposedly founded on the teachings of Jesus, which, if the Sermon on the Mount is to be believed, were somewhat agreeable. Help the poor is a worthy idea. Go to the gold-encrusted Vatican to see how far along this aspect of the mission is. Blessed are the meek, isn't that right, Mr. Pope? "Communists" in the USSR had this happen. The aggrandizing of the state to follow through with the ideas of Marx to dissolve the state. Like that makes sense. Or what about the Libertarian Party? Talk about oxymorons.

It appears at first glance that if most of this behaviour is done because it is easy or ingrained, then any other behaviour, or even just changing it, must be hard. Really, it isn't. It is no more difficult than learning a new skill or taking a class. Some time and honest effort are involved, but once we get the hang of it, it really isn't that hard. Not to mention that once we DO change our easy behaviours to become more of what we really desire, the rewards of behaving differently only spur us on. A friend of mine recently quit smoking. He says he doesn't miss feeling like shit in the morning hacking up his lungs. When I became a vegetarian, I enjoyed having regular stools and not feeling logy and cholesterol-ridden from eating meat. I am thin, fit, and active. I save money because I don't watch TV and feel the need to buy shit I don't need. I don't concern myself with the idiotic goings-on of flaky and shallow movie stars. Removing authoritarian people from my life has made me happier than ever. I've become involved with coops and am enjoying having a say in what goes on in the world around me. I'm learning how to win favour and earn respect from others, and how to gather people together to form functioning groups. I've removed a lot of the unnecessary aspects of my life and replaced them with things I find much more supporting and satisfying. Ironically, by doing these things, I've made my life simple and easy. :-)

Friday, December 08, 2006


Language is amazing in that it can be used to represent reality. Simple sounds or symbols can come to mean concepts that are far more complex than their representation. Some words we use have no tangible analogue, like love, or democracy. One consequence of this is that people will often be able to use a word, but may be almost entirely clueless as to what it means. What replaces understanding is an emotional response. We know this is how "god" works. The very specific idea of humans having a say in their lives in relation to each other is replaced by the low-res word "democracy". GWB, Tony Blair, etc, use words like these to get an emotional response out of you. When you are listening to one of their speeches, the words "freedom" and "democracy" are tossed around, almost glibly, in the understanding that people don't have standard definitions of these words. Rather than replace the words with their entire meaning, the audience associates a nebulous emotion to the simple sound or symbol. These are the "feel good" words that people like to hear, but, if you actually bothered to look them up, really have nothing to do with their agendas, unless, of course, if it was to stifle or undermine them.

I'm not here to define these terms, I just want to point out what happens when we get lazy and sloppy with our words by replacing them with emotions. There are a few terms people have thrown at me that they believe betters their position in an argument (political arguments especially). These I will define.

altruism -
1. Unselfish concern for the welfare of others; selflessness.
2. Instinctive cooperative behavior that is detrimental to the individual but contributes to the survival of the species.

Definition 1 is just false. THERE ARE NO ACTIONS UNDERTAKEN WHICH ARE SELFLESS. None. An act which benefits the group may not immediately return to the initial giver, but later on it will. In the case of actions which bring about the demise of the giver, they gain respect and prestige in the community. "Oh that brave man who was killed in Iraq defending freedom and democracy." The person may not be around to enjoy it, but the point is that it was not a total "loss", nor was it without recompense. The second definition is closer to what the word means, but still does not accurately represent reality. The term "detrimental" suggests that altruism involves a loss to the giver, and a gain to society. A happy xian family goes to the old folks home to sing to and entertain the residents. Seems like they are giving up their oh-so-precious time to perform some thankless job. Well, in xian terms, they would be doing it to be viewed favourably by god. In primate relations terms, their brains would be excreting rewarding happy chemicals that makes them feel good for helping other members of their species. Imagine a selfish person wants to feel good about themselves, and so does some "selfless", kind act for someone else to elicit these happy chemicals. The "selfish" person gets what they want, and the recipients come out ahead. Both parties win. Win-win.

I want to compare this to the idea of profits. Profits (in terms of money) involve a gain for the seller, and a loss for the buyer. Win-lose. (Yes, I understand that often the purchaser gets something they wanted that would benefit them, but it would still be at a price higher than what the seller bought it.) When people think of altruism (or socialism), they think of it as being the opposite outcome of profit. Altruism is when you lose, and the other person gains. Lose-win. In the course of discussing socialism, I have to demonstrate that altruism doesn't exist as we have defined it, or I use a term which makes their nebulous emotions gush: enlightened self-interest. Capitalism is not (just) defined by profits, and socialism is not altruism (or the reverse outcome of profit). Claiming this is making a false dichotomy, and is completely ignoring the decades of research and writing Marx did to describe capitalism. But this is for another post.

Capitalism vs. socialism is often analogous to realism vs. idealism. I have argued with people that have claimed I am too "idealistic" and have labeled themselves "realists". How do you like that for nebulous terms? There is no such thing as a "realist" when discussing these things (I'm not talking about art here). A "realist" living in the 1850s may have said "you can't stop slavery, it's natural and has been here for over a hundred years." They were not basing this solely on the situation at hand as the term "realist" suggests. There were underlying assumptions regarding slavery, among them maybe: black people are inferior to Europeans, a different species; the current situation (slavery) is a good thing, slavery is justified; making people change the way they run plantations would be immoral; etc. Someone living in the early 1900s may have claimed that women would never gain the same rights and status as men, so it would not even be worth it to try. Ideals: women are inferior to men; women are only good for cooking, cleaning, and making babies, and not for much else; changing the way people relate to women is an impossible task. Henry Kissinger is described as a "realist". His underlying assumptions include: violence is a great way to solve problems, it is the only way to solve problems; anyone claiming to be communist is worthy of death; it's okay to bomb countries that happen to border a current enemy of the US; Agent Orange and its tactical use is justified; etc. The point is all of these assumption are ideals. They may not be the most noble or ones we would care to have, but they are ideals. They may or may not align themselves with reality. Some ideals, like democracy, are desirable, but not necessarily attained. (Note: despite Bush's rhetoric, the US is not a democracy.) Ideals can be good (like democracy) or bad (like racism). They could line up with reality (like the redefined "altruism"), or they could be way off the mark (like racism).

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

From the Deep End

Don't know if anyone has seen this, but I thought it was pretty cool:

Also, I found this on a dumpster in the Mexican barrio of Houston. I've never seen this graphic before, so I'm guessing it is original. Sometimes you don't even have dive to find something awesome in the dumpster.
(For the monolingual among us, "huelga" = "strike".)

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Dragon2 + iteration power

Friday, December 01, 2006

Business Plan

This is a business plan I wrote for my small business management class.

Business Plan

I. Executive Summary


Machines that fabricate small plastic and metal parts for universities and engineering firms can be made highly adaptable, that is, with a wide range of tools for cutting, scoring, marking, routing, bending, melting, etc. Such machines could also be used for the private sector, providing a range of consumer products and industrial semi-products for retail and manufacturing firms alike.


Locally-made goods are cheaper to transport than those that must come from overseas. Packaging, logistics, overhead all add to the costs of transportation. Reducing them is possible by creating needed goods locally out of universal materials. Cheap and easy to store and ship, these sheets of varied thickness and composition will provide the raw materials for the parts needed. They can be used for all sorts of products, which can be made on demand, or in reserve supply – as the market dictates. With this ability, prices and production can increase and decrease in response to market fluctuations more readily than can other firms. The local nature of the firms will also allow them to be more integrated with the local community, increasing awareness and sales by encouraging employees to volunteer and become involved with it.


An open library of design specifications allows unique and individual parts to be made for special projects. As long as it is viable, feasible, and cost-effective, a design can be submitted for mass production, perhaps with royalties or incentives to encourage others to participate.

II. Vision and Mission Statement


Currently, goods are manufactured the world over, to be shipped the world over. Industrial output is concentrated in a few key areas that provide a large proportion of the goods consumed. How much energy is used to transport raw materials to some factory (likely in China), have them processed, and then have the final product shipped around the world? To prepare for a self-sustaining economy, a paradigm shift in the way goods are manufactured and transported is necessary. Centralized manufacturing makes consumers dependent on a single, distant source. Decentralized manufacturing would allow goods to be made and shipped locally, reducing dependence and the need for wasteful transportation measures.

Business Philosophy

Efficiency follows form and function. Refinement is only possible with iterated processes. Every round of finished goods yields an opportunity to make adjustments. A company that refines its workings benefits in terms of output and profit. In an ever-changing economy, the company that ever seeks to better itself is the one that survives and thrives.

III. Company Overview

Name and Location

The Robotic Manufacturing Company can have its first location be in a small town outside a large city. These places often serve as a low-rent area to store goods in outlets and warehouses that supply the department stores throughout the area, particularly in the cities. The chief concerns for location are dealing with noise levels and ease of loading/unloading.


It is a waste of human potential to have someone sit in a factory for several hours every day, repeating the same small movement over and over again. Robots can perform these actions without tiring, without complaint, without sleep or rest, without striking, getting sick, or pension plans. Modern robotics can also make superior products to those made by hand. Having robots manufacture and provide goods for a population means reduced cost, more efficient use of time and resources, and the potential for high growth and profits.


Engineering firms and universities use large Computer Aided Design labs with specialized robots to fabricate custom-designed tools and objects. Utilizing this technique for consumer and industrial goods allows a wide range of goods to be made for a fraction of the cost it would take to specifically set up a shop for a small range of products.


This business could use an empty pre-existing warehouse, but would be a startup otherwise.


Such a machine and its use was depicted on Scientific American Frontiers on PBS. On the show, the host, Alan Alda, designed a piece of plastic that allowed one to adjust the angle of flash on a camera using mirrors and notched plastic, thereby reducing red eye in photos. The machine read the instructions from the CAD program and cut out the pieces from a sheet of clear plastic, to be assembled by hand to make the item. The open nature of the apparatus allowed virtually any and all designs to be tested.


After the initial startup, as business begins to grow, the employees will be given the option of buying into the company. Hierarchical command structures are cumbersome and in many cases, inefficient. The potential for abuse of leadership positions also makes it outdated and obsolete. Employees will be more motivated and take pride in their work if they understand that the success of the company depends on their vigorous labor.

IV. Products Plan


· Products intended for retailers would be made of quality plastic, wood, metal, and possibly glass and consist of common, high necessity, high use consumer items. Storage containers, furniture/cabinetry, windows, and other simple products can all be made on the same robotic apparatus, some assembly required.

· Products intended for manufacturers would be made of quality plastic, wood, metal, and possibly glass and consist of components and parts for other items. Casings for electronics like microwaves, TVs, computers, etc; small parts for complicated products like cameras and lock mechanisms, as well as parts and tools for industrial/commercial use washers, flanges, pipes, etc, are all possible with this technology.

· Products intended for individuals would be made of quality plastic, wood, metal, and possibly glass and consist of customized or pre-ordered items. Some items will be specially made for specific purposes for specific entities. Individuals and firms alike will often need a unique item made in a small quantity. The customizability of the CAD grants this capability without the need for refit.

Legal protection

The robotics technology exists, as does the CAD design and integration, but each single item will be uniquely designed and patented

V. Marketing Plan

Target Customers –

· Retailers of common household consumer products, especially simple single-material objects. Wal-Mart, Target, Costco, and such retailers could serve as outlets for these goods.

· Individuals desiring specifically designed - sometimes custom made – items. Perhaps for a greater fee, the robot could be used to manufacture custom and unique items, so long as they were pre-designed and likely to assemble appropriately. People from near and far could send in the digital recipe for the part they want and have it shipped to them.

· Firms needing semi-products and other parts. Companies needing certain parts for their unfinished goods will be supplied. The more complex the final product, the greater the chance it will need something that can be made using this technology.

VI. Management Plan

Team input

Workers will be given ample opportunities to make suggestions and participate in decisions, as much to the extent these decisions affect them. Neural networks function more effectively because they have redundancy and connectivity. A democracy functions in a similar way. By tapping into the hidden potential of the employees (each location to have less than 120 or so people), the company can take into account a myriad of concerns and facts, making well-informed decisions that will affect everyone in the company and in the surrounding community.


Workers will take turns being managers, to change the routine and to keep the workplace egalitarian. Elected managers will provide the captain element in the workplace. The elected and temporary nature of the position is to ensure that no abuse occurs, and that others can have an opportunity to manage. Recalls and other power checks can be put into place to keep the situation stable. By encouraging worker participation, the firm can harvest the full potential of each employee, to the benefit of all.


Workers will have a wide range of skills when dealing with the tools, specializing only to the extent that is needed. Specialization diminishes the potential of the employee by limiting their actions and responsibilities. Nothing discourages someone faster than making them perform mind-numbing and repetitive tasks. Some employees will end up being better at some duties than others, but when this occurs, they will be encouraged to teach others how they refined their technique, such that the firm as a whole increases efficiency as the workers better their skills. Job rotations will facilitate this, bringing a fresh perspective on old tasks. Having several different people perform the same task allows refinement to take place much more rapidly.

VII. Operating Plan


Versatile robot arms with interchangeable tools cut, score, drill and bend plastic, wood, metal and possibly glass sheets using pre-designed instructions. The robotic arm reads the CAD data and arches over a sheet, performing actions specified in the design, cutting out shapes and manipulating them to the extent possible by the machine.


A large warehouse could house the robotic apparatus and the control stations, as well as a temporary storage and shipping area.

Quality Control

For individual sales, frequent inspections will be conducted; for mass-made products, statistical analyses will be conducted.


A computer database will keep track of labeled parts and designs, and other logistics.


Firms that produce sheets of plastic, wood, metal and possibly glass will provide most of the raw materials.


Will consist of procuring sheets of various kinds of plastic, wood, metal, and possibly glass, of varied size and thickness, to be determined by demand figures.

VIII. Financial Plan


Capital to invest in the proper machinery, personnel, tools and other materiel will come from small business loans, banks, investment firms – any entity that will supply funds.


Cost per item will be calculated by factoring in the total surface area of the item, the composition (including what type of wood or plastic) of the item, the amount of time necessary to complete the part, the number of times tools need to be changed on the machine, and how much waste material is produced. For stored items, there is an added inventory/processing fee. Rates for all factors will depend on the market, and will adjust to it accordingly.