Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Information Technology

IT has its roots in the beginnings of the computer industry and the emergence of the Internet as business tools. Initially, both of these technologies were experiments into what could be accomplished. Their early applications were in very specialized fields that required computing power, like the analysis of nuclear weapon effects, or problems that needed long-distance reliable communications, like military command and control. However, as these technologies became more affordable and more accessible, other businesses began to apply them to every form of industry. Companies gradually discovered the best approaches for leveraging these IT systems toward improved production efficiencies, rapid information exchange, meaningful staff reductions, and additional new inventions – each of which proved to be a competitive advantage. However, IT is not a proprietary technology. It is a publicly available product that can be purchased by any company that can afford the price. Therefore, advantages achieved through computer controlled milling machines are soon copied by other companies until everyone in the industry is performing more efficiently. IT lifts all companies that adopt it, while those who do not, sink to the bottom and lose their relevance.

Since a company cannot defend, control, or hide IT from its competitors, it cannot retain a long-term monopoly on any advantages gained from it. Carr argues that the advantages are temporary and are lost over time. Early adopters realize some benefits at the beginning. With experience, they are able to increase these benefits through improvements in implementation and by finding the places where IT has the most leverage. However, as competitors adopt this same technology, the relative advantage of one company over another diminishes. Therefore, after reaching some peak, the advantage decreases until it is a very small part of the business. Like the Poisson distribution, the advantages gained never recede completely to zero. Small advantages can be gained through IT system improvements, wise selection of competing products, and good timing on new purchases and implementations. However, the lion’s share of the advantage is in the past and will not be repeated.

The crux of Carr’s argument is not that this transition happens for all innovations, but that it has already occurred for IT. He suggests that the early adopters have discovered the most powerful ways to extract value from IT for business activities and that these methods have been copied across the industry. Therefore, IT is already becoming ubiquitous and providing correspondingly less advantage to those who use it. His argument is that we are certainly in the central region labeled “Diminishing advantage” and may even be getting close to the right-hand side of “Weak advantages”.

The ubiquity of the technology is the source of its own downfall in providing an advantage, but this is also its strength as an enduring ingredient within business. A similar path has been followed by the steam engine, railroad, telegraph, telephone, and electricity generation. All of these have become an integral part of world industry. None of them would be considered optional (assuming that the telegraph is the grandfather to the Internet), though none are considered a unique source of competitive advantage to the companies that use them because every competitor has access to them as well. Lumping IT into the same “old” category as electricity has drawn criticism from across the IT industry. Robert Metcalfe, inventor of Ethernet, is one of those leaders who have challenged Carr’s position. However, like many other IT defenders, Metcalfe does not really address the question of whether IT has reached its peak in providing competitive advantage. Instead, he points out that IT sales are still strong, companies still need the products, and vendors continue to create better products for these customers. He seems to miss the entire connection to competitive advantage and focuses instead on revenue generation. Andy Grove, legendary Chairman of Intel, does understand what Carr is saying. He agrees that basic transaction processing has crossed the second knee in the S-curve and is a mature technology around the world. However, he disagrees that all IT services and computer-based systems can be lumped into this category. He believes there is considerable room for innovation in areas like digital music, digital telephones, wireless access, and data search. He contends that Carr attracted such a flood of attention because he published the book during the third year of a technology recession.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Many Books ... Same Ideas

I read the first two chapters in a couple of research methods books I bought last semester. I have looked at the opening chapters of 4 books so far and find that all of them present very similar ideas. They define a theory, they define research, and they divide research in applied and basic (or pure). They describe the process of conducting research and its defining characteristics. Sekaran presents the defining characteristics of research as:
1. Purposiveness – having a definite aim or purpose,
2. Rigor – having “a good theoretical base and a sound methodological design”,
3. Testability – analytically applied to a hypothesis,
4. Replicability – able to be duplicated by other researchers and leading to the same conclusions,
5. Precision and Confidence – results closely replicate the real world and contains a high probability of being correct,
6. Objectivity – based on the facts uncovered and not on the subjective biases of the researcher,
7. Generalizability – can be applied to larger populations or situations than were used for the study, and
8. Parsimony – explains the research and its results in a manner that is clear and understandable to a larger audience.

Monday, September 26, 2005

Classification of Research

Cooper & Emory provide an interesting hierarchy of research that is worth capturing in the journal:
· Reporting – provides and account of summation of data. The research does not seek inference of conclusions.
· Description – explores the who, what, when, where, and how of the data. Researcher creates a profile of a group of problems.
· Explanation – seeks the reason behind the phenomena that is occurring.
· Prediction – creates a theory or model of the phenomena that can be used to predict when it will occur and under what conditions.
· Control – identifies means to control the phenomena or to control the impact that the phenomena has.

This hierarchy puts some of my previous work into perspective. Many of us hope to understand something well enough to control its effects. But, this is the highest level and is not directly assailable. A researcher must work through the previous levels or build on the work of previous researchers who have done so.

Sunday, September 25, 2005

Asking Questions

The first chapter of Salkind led me to consider the importance of finding an appropriate question. I have just completed DMGT730 in which we worked through the process of writing a dissertation proposal. Though the class involved a great deal of research and reading, the really difficult intellectual problem was in finding an appropriate question to investigate. For my own topic, I adjusted the question six times before submitting the final assignment.

Once you locate an area of interest, it may be a good exercise to list the many, many variables that surround that area. These variables may suggest questions that could be posed. The student of research may then list all of the questions that could be the topic of a dissertation. Many of these cannot be pursued because they are too vague, poorly formed, or contain impossible requirements. Remove the questions that cannot be used. Of those remaining, many will have already been examined. A study of the literature will eliminate more questions. This study will also lead to new questions that were generated as a result of previous research.

This exercise is probably not the best way to locate THE problem that a student will research. But, it is a good way to come to an appreciation of the number of questions that can be asked. It might also help in understanding the difference between good and poor research topics.

Friday, September 23, 2005


The quantitative world is a beautiful thing, specifically because it is simple, predictable, measurable, and without emotional entanglements. A pound of feathers and a pound of butter really are the same thing. In a quantitative world you should be able to show up for work for 40 hours and receive 40 dollars pay every week without end.

Having grown up in a quantitative world and studied math and statistics at an early age, it is difficult to imagine a world in which objective measurement, inquisitiveness (vs. inquisition), and doubt are not natural and allowed. How could Galileo be persecuted for stating what anyone could observe? How can what is happening in the world not be true because it has not been part of the past?

I suspect that post-positivist thinking moved the western and eastern worlds into the modern age. As we allowed people to ask questions and change the current structure of society and knowledge, we discover valuable laws, materials, and applications that transform society. Who would suspect that sand could become silicon? Without the transformation all human have to work with are sand, beaches, dirt mounts. With the transformation, sand becomes silicon, computer, and knowledge transfer. The whole world changes because are willing to change the use of sand.

We own progress to new uses of oil, wood, metal, atoms, chemicals, bacteria, etc. Inquiry, questioning, measuring, experimenting. All of these lead to a new understanding of the world. All of these lead to a new experience of the world. This leads to a new human place in the world.

I think we are very lucky to be able to think qualitatively. For some reason we seem to be the only species on earth that can think like this. We do not have competition for thinking, creating, changing. Humans in Boston, Bombay, Sydney, Moscow, London, and Tokyo all compete with each other in understanding and changing the world. But all of them are working to change it in a way that benefits most humans. Imagine if we were competing with dolphins in this thinking race. They would certainly have an entirely different take on what is important in the world. Imagine dolphin sewage being thrust up onto the shores of California. Imagine the Florida Keys being leveled to an altitude of 30 feet below sea level to make room for coral farming in the area. That kind of competition would be very different from what exists purely between humans today. What if the dolphins began mining for metals from the ocean inward beneath New York City? We may find them pulling out human plumbing, subway metals, and skyscraper infrastructure to build their own structures in the sea.

We are lucky to have quantitative thinking … and very lucky that other species do not have it as well.

Thursday, September 22, 2005


Qualitative research is associated with the quality of an attribute or question. Usually means a property that cannot be measured with a stick. Such as “How happy are you?” or “What is the meaning of family?” These questions are important for understanding people and society. Though I might not be able to measure the intensity of the happy neuron firings in the brain, there should still be a way to study it and to construct measures of it.

One of the most prevalent social structures is the business enterprise. A company, corporation, partnership, or sole proprietorship is a social organization based around exchange of goods and services. These exchanges and the support functions throughout the organization are teaming with social interactions and human emotions. The manager, especially the first line manager, often finds herself awash in a sea of human and group issues that stem from these interactions. Therefore, applying qualitative research to business problems is essential. There are probably more issues and dynamics involving humans than there are involving machinery, materials, or money. None of these have feelings, aspirations, or health issues. They either function well, poorly, or not at all. They do not function well, but with a bad mood. Nor do they operate flawlessly for an operator they like and stubbornly resist an operator that has offended them.

Qualitative research may still be struggling for the respect it hopes for, or maybe it is still earning the respect that will eventually be due to it. Perhaps it is emerging from the quantitative base of science in the same way that science emerged from the positivist base of society. Just as positivists opposed the scientific method and quantitative questioning, the quantitativists may be resisting the ideas of the qualitativists. New ideas always threaten the established society. Without those ideas, the society had to construct a pattern and norms that worked. Once a new idea is added, there are new ingredients that can construct new patterns and norms that will work as well. However, if you do not understand the new idea, then all of this restructuring seems only to be an attempt to break the current patterns and move to patterns that have “already been shown to fail”. It really requires an understanding of the new idea to be able to understand why new patterns that include it will work.

I do not think that societies operate as a unified giant brain in making decisions to protect the status quo or opposing new patterns. Instead, each reacts to the new idea and shares its beliefs through a social network. Many reactions attempt to influence their own networks. All of these networks overlap and create complex combinations of reaction. Therefore, it is always difficult to impossible to address issues that are raised because they come from all directions and interact to generate new and different issues.

The qualitativist must be able to function in an environment that is slightly hostile. Perhaps this time has passed and there are solid communities in which qualitative methods are integrated and accepted. Certainly, the business research field should be one of these communities. Business seems to be a place where mixed methods should be very useful.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Literature Review

How do you wander the digital stacks? I found a book on the History of Mathematics while wandering the stacks of a university library. Who would have even suspected that such a book existed … certainly not a 19 year-old kid doing his homework. The digital library is a powerful tool, but it does not allow wandering very well. When we search we find lots of “near hits” that are similar to wandering. So perhaps it is not less accessible, but merely differently accessible.

When reviewing the literature how do you really do it? You begin will two things (1) keywords, and (2) your own books. The keywords will tell you what to search for. This will pull in a broad set of materials. The books you already own will give you references that others have used. These are the focused results of other researchers. They should help you focus and dig deeper by author, institution, or specific jargon terms that you do not know yet. (I just learned about service-based learning from an AOM journal.)

Ideas do not grow on trees or even in individual minds. Most of us are too stupid to create something really brilliant. So we make up for it by studying the ideas of a hundred other fellow idiots and finding some way to contribute a verse. This is not an insult, it is just an acknowledgement of the Bell curve. It is crowded in the middle and sparse on the leading edge. Like a bureaucracy we are harnessing the mediocre talent of the masses to carry on a mission that is too big for individuals. Thank heavens for the middle of the Bell curve. We are the ones who pool our strengths to build something that is truly big and enduring … even though it will rule over us once constructed.

I am willing to review literature to collect the gems from the masses and the leaders and try to make one contribution. Studying the thoughts of others can also teach us to think better than we do now. The masses at the trailing edge get all of their thinking patterns for TV, we have to go to a better source if we want better patterns.

The how of literature review is less important than just doing it. Jump in with both hands, both feet, and both brain lobes … the water is rich.

Monday, September 19, 2005


What is a dissertation? I think it is a formal proof of contribution to the knowledge of human society. Certainly the Wright Brothers made a concrete contribution with the aircraft, but they did not get a Ph.D. for it. But they were followed by thousands of aeronautical students who received a Ph.D. for examining the dynamics of flight and publishing a document on it. Those documents promoted the science of flight and may be embedded in the Concord, F-16, and Boeing 777. But no one sees those contributions. We see Orville Wright, John Glen, Howard Hughes, and Ramos. These are the hands on people, no the “heads on” people.

Dissertation … valuable? I think it is more an opportunity for the student to test his mental metal. He can dig deeply into a subject and really master something. This may be more depth and mastery than he or she will ever accomplish in hisher life again. Perhaps professors or research lab scientists may get to repeat the experience more than once, but most of us are headed for a once in a lifetime experience. I think we should pick something that is rewarding and personally valuable, something we can have pride in for decades. Choosing a topic that will pass is certainly practical, but is it what doctoral study is all about? Perhaps there is too much emphasis on being accepted, which may be an expression of the university protecting its own reputation and the status quo. No one wants to cheapen the process or degree, but perhaps acceptance by one’s peers is not the only way to contribute. Hmmm … that is true, but it might just point the student to another avenue of contribution. Perhaps he should go and invent the next graviton propulsion system rather than proving the existence of gravitons in his dissertation.

I am not afraid of this process. I am more afraid of the biases of the professors who will be involved. We all see the world uniquely, but they have the power in the relationship and I have the position of being molded into a proper doctor.

Many of us are gong through this so we can be Dr. X. That has value in society and in our own minds (which are a reflection of societal values). But, the knowledge we acquire is another kind of value. Option 1: Dr. Hamm may become an assistant to the secretary of defense and never need his doctoral knowledge. Option 2: Dr. Hamm may work for the office of management and budget and create an entirely new organizational structure for government professionals. That is all about the doctoral knowledge.

I think the greatest part is that we do not stop learning and we do not limit ourselves. Keep moving, the specter of death is at your heals. When you lay down to sleep, he draws that much closer.

Sunday, September 18, 2005


Who invested the survey? Surely the roots are in the census of ancient people’s. Remember the cause of the Biblical nativity scene? Mary and Joseph were called to Bethlehem for a survey conducted by XXX. They were essentially being counted. But were they also classified by sex, age, race, ancestry, town of origin, and current place of residence? That is a really interesting question. What became of those records or those of other censuses? Imagine a Dan Brown novel in which an archeologist discovers the actual census records of Mary, Joseph, and Jesus. What kind of twists could go into that?

At its roots a survey is an easy as asking questions and ticking off the answers on a roll of papyrus. However, what if you ask the questions wrong? Or what if you do not ask the right people? Then the answers you get represent a skewed sub-culture of the actual population. If you just ask all males what their favorite sport is, then the results are not going to represent the US. Football will probably be much more prevalent in that survey than is really characteristic of the US population.

Another way to skew the survey is to ask the survey question in the wrong way. “How many times a week do you beat your wife?” is probably not going to lead to answers that are a true reflection of social behavior. Getting at an issue like that requires a great deal of creativity and validation.

Some populations are self-selecting. In the Biblical example we assume that everyone was asked to report to the city of their birth. Do you think everyone actually went? Certainly not. Many are too poor, frail, ill, afraid of bandits, apathetic, busy, or enslaved to actually comply. The population who show up are self-selecting. There is already a bias built into this crowd. This would be like conducting a survey in a shopping mall in which you ask how often people buy clothing. This population is already predisposed to go to a shopping site, so their answers should be suspect if considered a fair assessment of the population.

Why survey at all? Why not collect data and use that to calculate the information you are looking for. For example, all credit card receipts can match credit score, home address, mortgage, and the stores shopped in. This is a wealth of information. This is great, but it does not tell us how the shoppers feel about the lighting in the mall or the composition of the stores available, or how many hours they spend shopping each week. Information like this is harder to get. However, the day is coming (very close to here now) when everyone’s cell phone will operate as a geographic location/tracking device. These records can then be used to track the movement of anyone at all times. Now we know how long people spend shopping. What a huge data set this will be. (WILL BE … not could be, or might be).

This type of progress is another instance in the depersonalization of society. It is one less activity that requires face-to-face, human-to-human interaction. Perhaps in the future we will be so starved for human contact that we will pay extra for anything involving the human touch …. $100 for an exam by a robot, $200 for an exam by a human doctor.

What has this all to do with surveys? Not as much as I had hoped … oh well, the dangers of the free writing mind. I think that new Dan Brown novel at the beginning is a million dollar idea.

Saturday, September 17, 2005


Where is the infinite? It seems to lie in two directions simultaneously – outer space and inner molecules. Capt. Kirk and Star Trek were some of the first to point us to deep outer space, to venture far beyond our own solar system and galaxy. In fact, it was not until sometime in the 20th century that we even knew that there was more than our own galaxy. Kirk, Spock, Nimoy, and the numerous “Red Shirts” took us to a new planet every week, sometimes two, and demonstrated that creates there were strange and familiar. They were like us because we imagined them. But they were unlike us because we did our best to make them unique. Opening this doorway to thought leads to the question – how many stars, planets, and creatures can possibly exist in the universe? Is the answer 1, 100, or 1 million? So far we are still wondering about that question. Is there any reason that the number of stars and planets cannot be infinite? Is there a number so large that it is the same as infinity for all practical purposes (like Bill Gates’ net worth)?

The second direction seems to be downward into the animal cell and the structure of atoms. The universe seems to exist in their in exactly the same way it exists in outer space. Atoms look like little galaxies or solar systems. But, kids now learn that electrons are probability spaces and not little tiny planets orbiting the nucleus. They also learn that the electron field is not a sphere around the nucleus, but is a space that is shaped by the other atoms in its vicinity. This tiny inner infinity is complex, and the more complex it becomes, the more it looks like the giant outer infinity.

Is infinity useful? It is more than I can eat, own, earn, or carry. I understand that ancient man had a very primitive counting system that went something like “none”, 1, 2, “many”. If you had more than 2 of anything you were rich to the point that it was not necessary to count it all. I might have nothing, one for myself, one for me and one for you, or more than that. 3 or 30 were both the same. How can this primitive person use infinity? Today we count things a little higher – and usually focus on our money. I might have 1 dollar, 100, 1000, or 100,000. We can count as high as we like and there are two numbers that we are particularly interested in – one million and one billion. When we make our first million we begin to hope to be rich. When we make our first billion, then we have made it. Is anyone concerned with trillion? It appears that only the computer people are looking that high. The storage on a hard drive, the RAM in a computer, and the operations per second – these are all interested in trillions and higher.

Infinity … does anyone really care?

Friday, September 16, 2005


To error is to make a mistake, to fall short of the correct answer, to violate a norm or standard. In like we speak of errors of commission and errors of omission. The first means that we have actively done something that was wrong. The second means that we have not done something that we should have done, a passive error.

An active error is usually thought more severe than a passive one. It take decision, where a passive error requires only indecision (which may be mistaken an ignorance).

In science we speak of Type I and Type II errors. The first is the error of rejecting an idea that is true. When Columbus (and others) suggested that the Earth was round, those who rejected his ideas committed a Type I error. They allowed the truth to slip away because they were wed to a mistaken historical belief that the world was flat. However, in accepting that the Earth was flat, they committed a Type II error. In this case it is possible to commit a Type I and a Type II error almost simultaneously. However, in truth, these people were making two different decisions. The first was to reject an accurate theory (round Earth). They may have stopped there and maintained the score at “Truth 0, Ignorance 1”. This would mean that they simply admitted that they do not know how the world is shaped – round, flat, pyramidal, or dodecahedron. If they continued to choose the shape of the earth and maintained that it was flat, then they separately committed the Type II error – leading to a score of “Truth 0, Ignorance 2”.

In science we try to protect against making either kind of error. We would prefer to say “I do not know” rather than making either type of mistake – “Truth 0, Ignorance 0”. I suppose this means we are as committed to not making mistakes as we are to finding the truth. We would prefer to know nothing than to know anything incorrectly. This attitude would be unique to scientists. Most people what a body of truth to hold on to and guide their thinking, regardless of whether it is right or wrong. It is more important to have something than nothing. Being wrong with confidence is a more preferable situation than being confident that we do not know.

Most people exhibit this bond with error in their daily lives. The best example is every listener who calls into a radio talk show to air their opinions. These listeners are eager to demonstrate to the world that they confidently believe in dozens fo false notions about the world. It seems the more ignorant they are, the more certain they are that their opinion is true. (Hence, the insistence on first-names-only over the air.)

Perhaps one cannot learn to avoid errors without fist learning enough to be comfortable in a morass of good, bad, and null information. Given only two pieces of data or two perspectives on a question, most people are happy to pick one, any one will do. However, with much more study it becomes clear that there are many more than two positions. A complex issue with n variables would have 2n positions if n can only take the values of “true” and “false”. If n is a continuous variable, then the number of combinations of n become infinite. Even grouping these into meaningful breaks can lead to n times a dozen or a hundred variations. Faced with so many options, it becomes much easier to hold off on a decision.

The vaccine against error seems to be knowledge. Knowledge may make a person smart enough to avoid choosing the wrong position (Type II). But it also allows the freedom to choose no position, but to hold many possibilities in consideration. How many dogmas contain this as their central approach to belief?

Thursday, September 15, 2005


Look at the big picture of a situation and infer from that what some fine details must have been. Anthropologists look at the bones of a dinosaur and deduce what it must have eaten, in spite of the fact that there are no clues in the fossils themselves. The teeth, the claws, the posture and provide clues to some other fact that cannot be measured directly. They arrive at their understanding of the dietary habits by deduction.

The most famous “deducer” was probably Sherlock Holmes, legendary thinker, but not a real person. “Elementary my dear Watson” is a statement know by millions and its meaning is understood. Arthur Conan Doyle created a character with prodigious powers of thought. He had built a person store of knowledge that was vast and eclectic. This he applied to crime scenes and people to deduce facts that others could not perceive.

In an earlier post I discussed the need for induction because people experience the world in small pieces that they must draw meaning from. Like Holmes, this information becomes the knowledge from which deduction can take place. It seems to be a cycle of thought that begins with perception and is followed by induction. The knowledge built by these is then available for deduction on later problems.

Deduction is a higher form of thought. It is not directed by a set of immediately perceived information. Instead, the deducer must select for himself what knowledge is applicable in the process of deducing specifics from a general observation, thought, or theory. This would imply that deduction is open to many more avenues of approach. Deduction can be driven by the historical experience and accumulation of the person doing it. Induction is more reactive to the immediate perception and is more likely to proceed along a similar path for all individuals. Because deduction can follow so many different paths, it should be a technique that leads to many more different inquiries, discoveries, and mistakes than does induction.

In a Sherlock Holmes story, he, Watson, and Inspector Lestrade all arrive at different conclusion when presented with similar evidence. In the stories this is because Holmes is brilliant, Watson is practical, and Lestrade is a dullard. In practice this should be driven much more by the knowledge available to each and the disciplined techniques that each has developed to apply that knowledge. Perhaps Holmes was the fictional equivalent of Einstein and the power of his mind far surpassed that of any others in police work. But, the brain falls under the normal distribution. Most of us are equipped with nearly the same brainpower. We have similar raw capabilities and can each conquer similar problems. The differences in our line of thought are probably due more to the knowledge we have stocked up and a certain amount of luck in sifting and organizing that knowledge. The power of the individual brain is much like that of its neighbors.

Monday, September 12, 2005


“Jim, what is your concept for the new building?”

“Well, Joe, I think the new building should be of green glass, multi-storied and taper to an off-center point at the top. We want something very distinctive for our customers to recognize us by.”

“Thank you Jim, that is a very clear concept you have there.”

So a concept must be an idea, a visualization, a structured way of understanding something. How is it different from an idea? Perhaps a concept is something that has been thought theory. It has relationships internally and externally. It seems to stand-up and be meaningful in the context of its surroundings. It is more that some wild idea, some wandering thought. It has been created, tested, justified – though not necessarily proven. There are many ideas, like Jim’s thought about a building a new office that are not “proofable”. They are structured thoughts about the world and they fit logically into a mental model of the world.

Concept … conceive … create … structured belief system … ideas getting ready for a proof … seeds of a theory … baby born of mental effort to organize the world … adolescent who might become an adult theory some day.

The mental pool has run dry on this concept.

Sunday, September 11, 2005


Theory is a structured and substantiatible form of belief. It is view of the world that is supported by experimentation and founded on other established views of the world. Is a theory true? No, a theory is something that has not been proved to be false yet. It is something that might be true, that may have been observed to be true in a limited number of circumstances. Theory allows us to convert a question into something that is structured enough to be able to pursue knowledge about whether the idea or question is true.

In daily life do we have theories? Yes, we all have our theories about our own health, diet, relationships, how the grass grows, and a hundred other experiences. These “theories” are generally less structured than those used in research and scientific investigation. In many cases, theories are our own method of holding onto to beliefs that we are not sure are true and that we may never make the effort to prove are true. In labeling them theories, we admit that we are not sure about them, and we may also continue to believe them for years without ever taking any action to prove their validity. We may just wait until new knowledge falls into our laps or we stumble into experiences that prove that the theory is not true.

These theories may be nothing more than ignorance of how the real world works. People have believed that the moon causes warts and that stress causes ulcers. These theories may be held and acted on for decades or even centuries without serious attempts to determine whether they are true or not. In that case, is a “personal theory” really a theory if there is no attempt to determine its validity? Do these attempts have to be formal? Or is the process of living and comparing experiences to internal theories a form of experimentation and revalidation?

Saturday, September 10, 2005


In life we experience the world in small pieces. We see one rabbit, then two, then three. We begin to build a stereotype of what a rabbit it. It is a model for all future rabbits. Our mind (might) begin to erase the features of each individual rabbit and replace them with those of the model rabbit. Perhaps, the model rabbit is at the core of our memories and meaning for all rabbits. Significant individual rabbits are then remembered as variations off of the model. In constructing the model rabbit we have conducted rabbit induction, we have generalized from the specific to the universal.

Because humans see the world in small pieces like his, it seems to me that induction is the major approach that we would take to managing our own knowledge about the world. It is a means of reducing the amount of detail that we remember and creating a map of the world that is more organized and easier to deal with. For example, if we see a brown rabbit named Chocolate eat a carrot we know that Chocolate likes carrots. Then we wonder whether the white rabbit named Snowflake likes carrots. We feed Snowflake a carrot and discover that it too like carrots. We now have two pieces of information. If we have a dozen rabbits, do we have to experiment with each of them to discover that each likes carrots? If we do this and get a positive answer on each, do we then store this information a dozen times in our brains? If so, then we are implying that we must experiment on every rabbit before we could possibly know whether each likes carrots? This is a lot of memory storage and a lot of experimentation to be able to deal with the world. This is where we need induction. We need a tool to help us reduce repetitive work and to make room in our minds for other information. Dr. Watson once mentioned the Prime Minister to Sherlock Holmes. To which Holmes said “Who?” Watson was incredulous that Holmes would not know this. Holmes explained that the mind is like an attic. There is a limited amount of space and one has to be careful what one puts up there. One should only remember the important and essential things. Since the Prime Minister’s name was of no use to Holmes in solving crimes, it was a useless piece of information to him and was ejected from his attic mind in favor of understanding the chemical properties of blood (or some such tidbit).

Harrison argued that induction was an improper way to do science. In the first chapter he explains his reasoning. But he does not provide a solid alternative. This idea is too radical to accept from one chapter. Since people experience the world in small pieces, I think induction is their primary tool of understanding the world at large. In fact, today, I think that deduction is really a later phase of thinking that is enabled only after lots of induction has taken place. One cannot deduce from the general without having used induction to create an understanding of the general in the first place.

It will be interesting to see what alternative Harrison can provide in later chapters.

It occurs to me that most of our language is based on induction. Without induction there is no such thing as “rabbit”, there are only Chocolate, Snowflake, and a million other unique animals.

Thursday, September 08, 2005


Freewriting is the practice of writing constantly without stopping, without interruption, and with the goal of creating a stream of thoughts from the mind to the fingers to the paper (wooden or digital). How does this process work? In theory, it allows ideas to be captured without judgment and editing. It reveals what the writer really thinks about a subject and not what he/she is supposed to think (like writing “he/she” rather than “he”). It has only been two weeks, but it appears to work … to some degree.

There is a difference as Dr Field claimed between handwriting and typewriting. In hand writing the mind is actually a little further ahead of the hand in capturing ideas, so there is some time to prepare an idea before it is put down on paper. However, when handwriting, the brain is busy moving the muscles of the hand and seems to be less inclined evaluate ideas consciously. So the part of the brain that is evaluating ideas is less conscious than when typewriting. When typing on the computer, the brain is must more free to mess with the ideas as they are born. So, the dialog is a little more stilted and halting. Also, through years of practice the hands and eyes have been taught to spot and correct typographical errors as they hit the page. Therefore, the reflex to hit the “backspace” key happens almost automatically. It is must more difficult to leave things as they fall. Also, the eye is constantly being queued by the red squiggly lines under “bad” words on the page. The computer is telling you that you have made a mistake … and you had better correct it right away.

Does this process reveal new thoughts to the writer himself (or more politically correct “themselves” or him or herself). In some cases, yes. However, in most cases it simply forces the mind to organize ideas that have floated in the mind without structure. Thoughts are much less concrete and organized that everyone believes of themselves. What you know is hidden in a mist of chemical slush. Those thoughts appear to be organized and expressed only on demand. When not called for they remain a floating mess, like the floor in my daughters’ rooms. So, freewriting (and writing of any form), forces the mind to organize thoughts and to put them in a form that is more solid and permanently expressive. What they say is often surprising, though not necessarily completely unknown to the writer.

Do I edit my thoughts in spite of the freewriting rules? Certainly. There are some thoughts that are so socially unacceptable, that we constantly guard against expressing them. Religion, morals, and society try to teach us not to have such thoughts, but they really succeed in teaching us to suppress them. The act of freewriting often skirts dangerously close to allowing ideas to escape, whose very existence is denied. These may range from the criminal to the simply rude. Like Jeckle and Hyde, every man (woman) is filled with the juices of good and evil. Some people simply are not interested in really evil things, so they are mild. However, others are not interested in good, so they become outwardly vile. In a doctoral program, I would expect mostly mild people (except Kathie who is a rabid Steelers fan who has been taught to love violence as entertainment … oops, who let that thought out … get back in your cage rude dog).

So, will the class and I continue freewriting when this cource is over? No of course not. In general, this is homework, not a lifestyle. However, we will be equipped with an invaluable tool. When writing our dissertations we will face many periods of writers’ block. Hopefully, this practice will have taught us to “let go” and let the internal mind stream thoughts to paper. Such a practice may be uncontrolled, unmanaged, but it is not evil and wrong. It is not simple blather that comes out. The mind is often filled with ideas ready for capture, but the mental filters are keeping them from emerging. Remove he filters and let the ideas out. Then you can look at them later. You have 30 minutes to spend on your dissertation … is it better to stare in frustration at a blank page or to release the hounds and let a stream of any wild ideas come out? In both cases, the 30 minutes will be gone. In one you will have a very well guarded piece of white paper, in the other you will have a quagmire of ideas, which will have some gems in it.

Freewriting is mining the mind.

Wednesday, September 07, 2005


Culture … do I have any? Culture is a name for the shared values and behaviors of a group of people. People in a small town share values and behaviors that would in their environment, that allow them to function, live together, and honor or hide their past. In the city, the same is true. But what works in one place will not work in another. I have lived in 7 different towns and found that the culture in each is noticeably different.

In Holly and Lamar, Colorado, the very noticeable feature of the culture is the obsession with rain. Those communities are dependent on dry land wheat farming to maintain their economy. They are farming in an area that receives very little rain. Therefore, the fixation of most people is on how much rain has fallen in the last month – usually measured in a fraction of an inch because it seldom rains an entire inch in one month. They get very excited when they receive 1/10th of an inch of rain in an evening. Another part of the culture is the focus on beef at the dinner table. The area also raises cattle and as a result, most families serve beef as the main course of every meal. There are occasional chicken dishes (usually fried chicken), but the ratio is around 6:1 in favor of beef.

In Pueblo, Colorado, the focus was on steel production, consumption, importation. In the late 1970’s the city’s economy was largely based on the steel mill in the middle of the old part of town. It provided the major source of jobs and union-level incomes. The steel mill also perfumed the entire city with a stench of sulfur mixed with metal. On good days the wind would blow the smell away from the city. On bad days, the smell would drift lazily over the entire city giving everyone a sour nose and face. Stories were told of workers who showed up at the steel plant driving a Japanese car (usually a Honda). By the end of the day, the car was vandalized because it represented a threat to the consumption of American steel production.

Lubbock, Texas, is known by the old song “happiness is Lubbock, Texas in your rear-view mirror”. The town has very little to boast about in terms of history or economic power. It is home to Texas Tech University and is surrounded by cotton fields. Lubbock sustains a strong vein of Texas Pride. There is great meaning in being from Texas, in Texas, part of Texas, and just Texan in general. Cowboy boots, Wrangler jeans (no other brand), Justin boots, Stetson hats, and large rodeo belt buckles are the height of fashion at any social occasion.

In Fort Worth, Texas, there is a preoccupation with maintaining the image of a cowboy town. They wanted to make sure that they were not confused with nearby Dallas. They had no intention of being seen as a small version of that metroplex, so they cultivated the cowboy culture to the point of nicknaming themselves Cowtown. Many of the city’s events were called the Cowtown Classic Bicycle Race, Cowtown Rodeo, etc. The cultural center of the city was in the old Stockyards where Bill Bob’s Bar was a famous spot to be visited by all locals and tourists.

Manassas, Virginia is the home of the Civil War’s First and Second Battles of Manassas. In the North these are better known as the Battles of Bull Run. The South named battles by the cities they were fought near. The North named them by geographic feature like rivers and hills. Tales are told of the citizens of Manassas taking picnic lunches to the tops of near-by hills to watch the battles from a safe distance. Like much of Virginia, Manassas is very focused on history – as long as that history happened during the Civil War and features a prominent role for the South. The area is also dominated with government contracting, largely defense. This dovetails nicely with their interest in the Civil War. Attending the Reenactment at Haystack, VA is a “must do” event in the area.

In Orlando, Florida you must take a stand on two issues. First, whether you are for the UF Gators or the FSU Seminoles. This will influence your social circles and the places you are allowed to watch football on the big screen. Second, you have to love Disney or ignore it (but you are not allowed to hate it). Orlando is the second or third most popular vacation spot in the world – surpassed only by Rome and Mecca. The other two are the centers of major world religions, which must make Orlando the center of the American Happiness religion. The economy is diverse, but largely focused on tourism that is here to see Disney World. There are certainly other attractions, but these are what you fit into your major 4-day trip to Disney parks. Universal, Sea World, a number of water parks, nearby beaches, Citywalk, Downtown Disney, Pleasure Island, Cirque du Solei, and several others collect the dropping from the Disney table. There are also a few thousand hotels and restaurants that rest and feed the hordes headed into Disney.

Behind the one or two major features of each city listed are hundreds of more subtle behaviors that are linked to these or that play a symbiotic role. But, each city has its own unique culture. Most Americans (except New Yorkers) can adapt to these cultures and find ways to fit in and function effectively. One of the defining features of America itself is its willingness to adopt and adapt. We are a mobile culture so we are an accepting culture … except for New Yorkers.

Tuesday, September 06, 2005


Science is the organized pursuit of knowledge. Just like the knowledge it creates, science is an evolving practice. It has taken centuries to invent the scientific process, to identify the difference between random thinking and tinkering and solid scientific inquiry. Recognizing that some processes are flawed, how they are flawed, and how to prevent these flaws has been a struggle in itself. In addition to discovering electricity, the motion of the planets, and the biological processes of life – we also had to discover the methods and tools for discovering these.

There is a certainly lot of life without science. All forms of professions can be carried out without science … farming, insurance, mortgage lending, construction, etc. But, we have discovered that with science all of these can be performed better. Science can aid us in planting at the right time, avoiding diseases, destroying pests, and creating hybrids of seeds and animals that are more hearty and productive.

Bill Nye the Science Guy is a typical image of a scientists – a little geeky, excited about strange things, and wearing a white lab coat. This image separates him from the rest of society, and in many ways separates science from the rest of society. But, in fact science completely permeates our lives from the cereal we have for breakfast to the satellite television we watch before bed. It should be impossible for children to say “how will I ever use math and science in the real world”. As consumers it is possible to avoid using math and science. But as a creator of the world as it is now and as it will be in the future, it is very difficult not to stir the pot of science.

Sit in an office and try not to use the computer or the Internet. If you don’t invest these (science), then you are a consumer. There was a time when everyone was a farmer and everyone participated in the creation of goods. Few were pure consumers. Everyone understood the husbandry of the land and of animals. Those people were the seeds from which science emerged… they were producers. Every profession is responsible for the creation of some good or service, though not all require the application of science. All of them somewhere in their roots contain science. Without science, all of the things we do and use every day would be much less efficient. Without actuarial mathematics it would still be possible to sell insurance. But, it would be a much more risky business. Without construction engineering and materials science, it would still be possible to construct a house … but not a skyscraper.

Daniel Bell pointed out that the modern progress of industrial societies was largely due to two professions … the engineer and the financier. The former allowed us to create incredible new products. The latter made it possible to finance major projects that could take advantage of new discoveries.

It is probably not a coincidence that university graduate schools have a huge market for engineering and management courses and have had to create adult education formats (night, weekend, and Internet classes) to meet the demand. But, there has been no similar demand for other subjects.

Monday, September 05, 2005

Economy of the Florida Keys

The Florida Keys is one of America’s prime vacation spots. But, strangely, the economy these is a mess. It looks like a third-world country. The entire string of islands has a “keysy” feel. This means laid back and painted lime green, peach, and yellow. In general it has a feel similar to the Bahamas or coastal Mexico. In spite of the fact that thousands of people travel there for vacation every year and many conferences are held on the islands, the economy is predominantly poor. There are a few luxurious resorts mixed with many mid-range resorts. But very low quality, low cost hotels and restaurants dominate the islands. I have vacationed there at least 8 times and always find it difficult to find a nice hotel or a good place to eat dinner.

What is wrong with this economy? I think they have failed to open the Keys to mid-range hotel development. Instead, a great deal of the precious land they have to offer has been consumed in two ways. The first is the “old keys”. These are the low class hotels, trailer parks, boat ramps, greasy spoons, and dive shops that took over the islands in the 1950’s and 1960’s. The second are the very high-class vacation homes and condominiums.

The first draw fishermen and divers who are traveling on a budget. They want to practice their sport, drink beer, and eat their catch. These people can only support lower cost attractions. They are more likely to eat in a bar, fast food, or a greasy spoon. They require support in the form of boat ramps, fishing tackle, taxidermy, and boat rental.

The second take the most precious resource that the Keys have and build a luxury home on it. The construction of these homes pulls in the tradesmen who make very small salaries for their work. Once completed, the homes then become vacation spots for the rich people who own them. These people spend 1 to 4 weeks in them each year. The rest of the time these homes are unoccupied. This state requires some grounds maintenance and security to maintain the property.

Neither of these classes of “businesses” in the Keys generates a really vibrant economy. They do not put the resources of the islands to use for either production or significant consumption. When all of land is sold for luxury homes, that land does not produce anything. Because the owners are seldom present, it also accounts for little consumption. Therefore, once sold and developed, the Keys lose a resource and gain little in return.

The Keys would have a much more vibrant and rich economy if they would use their resources for production or higher-end consumption. There is little aquaculture in the Keys. They do not farm sea plants or fish there. Both of these would create businesses that could bring a constant stream of outside revenue into the islands.

They should also invest in attractions that would bring down a higher-class of vacationer. They need more mid-level hotels and activities for these people to participate in. These hotels could generate twice the room rates of the current low-end properties that dominate the islands. The customers would also be able to afford more expensive activities. This would allow the creation of malls and entertainment venues. The property for these would have to be transformed from the existing low-end hotels and restaurants.

I think Las Vegas, Orlando, and Phoenix would be good models for the Keys to look to for their future style. Each of these has attempted to create a strong economy based on tourism. However, all three have the significant advantage of nearly unlimited real estate to work with. In Orlando when one area becomes rundown or has an outdated style, the business people simply move to open territory and create an entirely new experience. Kissimmee and Church Street Station are part of the old Orlando that has been pushed aside and replaced with Downtown Disney and Universal Citywalk.

The Keys may be locked into their low-end vacation status. The resource may be committed such that there is no way to redevelop them into a new experience. There is nothing particularly wrong with that. The biggest downside is that most of the residents of the Keys have few opportunities to advance themselves. They must remain content to captain an old snorkel boat or serve in an old hotel where there is little or no chance for financial advancement.

Thursday, September 01, 2005


The railroad, telegraph, Internet, computer, space flight, automobile … all of these represent progress. Academics have created categories of progress – Pre-agrarian, Agriculture, Industrial, and Information ages. Each of these is meant to emphasize that in certain periods progress seemed to cluster and accelerate in specific areas. Agriculture made it possible for one farmer to feed many people. Industrial progress made it possible for one blacksmith to shoe all of the horses in town. Information progress makes it possible for one accountant to manage all of the financials of a company. In this way progress is a tool toward efficiency. But, in addition to this, progress makes it possible to avoid starvation, lack of housing, and lack of knowledge about diseases. If progress did not generate efficiency in business, it would still generate a social good. It would move mankind from the cave to the condominium. It would raise life expectancy from 40 years to 75 years. This is a great thing for the individual, but what does it mean to society as a whole. What is the impact of an experienced 40-year-old farmer, miner, or doctor remaining alive and active for another 30 years? This provides a huge boost to the collective memory and ability of a society. A little progress enables a lot more. As a doctor comes to understand how to treat people, he is also able to perfect new techniques and tools and to practice with those long enough to master them. His or her knowledge can then be passed on in the form of writings that he/she may have the time and money to generate.

Progress is the striving for something better. Once a society tastes the benefits of a little progress, it is easy to get them to pursue more. Progress provides more money, more physical assets, more knowledge, and more freedom to indulge in what is precious in life, which is sometimes the pursuit of more progress.

Is progress different from knowledge? Is it possible to attain new knowledge and withhold it from circulation and application so that it does not generate progress? Is progress managed and directed? Certainly it is. Government, social structures, and individuals all work to create progress, but they also work to control it and direct it toward ends that appear valuable and away from ends that appear dangerous.

The atomic bomb was developed during a time of war. If the world had not been at war at just the right time when atomic knowledge was coming together, would anyone have ever invested the incredible amount of money and effort necessary to bring atomic weapons into existence? One could ask the same of space flight. Kennedy was able to mobilize the money and minds of the American people toward spaceflight and a trip to the moon because we were ideologically threatened by the Soviets. If the Soviets had not threatened us, would we ever have been able to pull this off? I think … No.

Look at the history of NASA and space exploration since the demise of the Soviet race for space. Have we gone beyond the moon? Where are the great missions to Mars and the outer planets? We have settled into the pattern of sending machines to planets while we all stay home. It appears that since the Soviets or Chinese do not want to go to Mars, then we don’t either.

If the Germans did not want an atomic weapon during WWII, then perhaps we would not have wanted one either. Or at least not badly enough to spend the money necessary to do it. It might have taken another 50 years to gradually sneak up on the creation of the nuclear weapon.

Perhaps all progress requires competition. If man is not competing against another man or against nature, then there is no motivation or reason to move forward. Agriculture and industry were means of overcoming a lack of food and a lack of natural resources. But, once we have everything we need from nature we look to other people to determine what we want, based on what they want.

It seems that the current frontier for progress is medicine. What one thing does nature have that we want control of? Death. We are tired of dying when some disease or infirmity decides that it is time to go. We want to stay until we are finished with life. I wonder when that would be. If possible to live forever, would anyone ever choose to self-terminate? Or is there a place in time and longevity when a man or woman simply says, “I am finished, goodbye.” Perhaps we will have the opportunity to find out within the next 100 years.