What a Difference 2% Makes

This is an important piece on how we should not over-interpret the meaning of this very close election. If 1 out of 100 voters flips their vote, Clinton wins handily.

While I do think liberals should care more about the plights of conservatives – and vice versa! – the larger takeaway is that the nation is extremely and evenly polarized.

What will be fascinating is how both parties could remake their platforms and form new coalitions:

-Trump may push for protectionist policies that appeal to unions and the working class, both traditionally Democratic. The UAW president just announced support for Trump on crushing NAFTA.

-Democrats may move farther left on social justice, campaign finance, student loans, and progressive taxes to activate millennials who love Sanders and Warren.

-Pre-election, Trump was kinda socially liberal, supporting marriage equality, abortion rights, and even transgender rights. He reversed during the election but if he returns to his original views, he would neuter the religious right.

Trump is so wildly inconsistent that it’s hard to say where he pulls his party. His famously short attention span and lack of principles could lead him to reverse his stances on whims.

Congress might corral Trump as he learns he needs them to pass anything, but maybe Trump can rile his base to keep Congress in line. We may see more conflicts between a president and his party than we’ve seen in a long time.

Two Ideas to Repair Our Political Divide

1. #RuralLivesMatter. Democrats shouldn’t abandon substantive issues but should value rural whites more than spotted owls and bathroom signs, especially if they want those people to not elect a psychopath. Political capital is limited so you have to prioritize.

2. An exchange program that subsidizes rural and urban people to switch locales for a bit. I suspect for many, it’d be like visiting a different country inside the same country.

How many of us have been to a NASCAR race, an evangelical mass, or a firing range? How many long-term rural residents have been to a four-star restaurant, an engaging college lecture, or a yoga class? If we travel to gain a new perspective, maybe we’d benefit from starting at home?

We could make it a reality series. President Trump could host it!

The Need For Instant Video Recording

“When something is described as a toy, that means it has everything an idea needs except being important. It’s cool; users love it; it just doesn’t matter.

But if you’re living in the future and you build something cool that users love, it may matter more than outsiders think.”

-Paul Graham

In an upcoming future where abusive behavior may rise, instant video recording will become important. Google Glass ($1,500 in 2013) and Snapchat Spectacles ($130 today) were widely criticized as expensive toys.

When this tech is under $50 with facial recognition, location tracking, and automatic uploading to social media and police, it will sell millions of units. (Especially because there are lots of non-security uses, too.)

We still need better non-lethal personal security tech, but it’s no coincidence that reports of UFOs and bigfoot plummeted when smartphones went mainstream. https://xkcd.com/1235/


Trump and Arafat

“After the summer of ’82, Arafat became more than ever a symbol, and maybe nothing more than a symbol, of the Palestinian refusal to disappear. He was judged by Palestinians less for what he produced than for what he represented.

No one put it better than a Palestinian coed at the West Bank’s Bir Zeit University. When I asked her why she stood by Arafat when he had brought his people nothing but defeat, she said with tears in her eyes, ‘Arafat is the stone we throw at the world.'”

-Thomas Friedman, From Beirut to Jerusalem

Disruption coming for trucking

Skeptical that basic income is coming soon? The most common job in 29 states is truck driving: 3.5 million drivers nationally. It’s one of the last middle class jobs that doesn’t require much education.

Self-driving trucks are being tested now and will hit the road next year. They will significantly speed shipping and drop prices for nearly every good in America.

However, millions of truckers will need a way to get by. Note this includes plenty of red states and blue states. This is why basic income will be a bipartisan issue. Survival trumps ideology.


How to increase willpower

Hi everyone,

Happy new year! This is a time for new resolutions so I thought I’d share tips from the book Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength. It’s written by a leading willpower researcher and a NYT science writer.

The nature of willpower

Willpower is finite: it depletes as we use it

Willpower is universal
: there is only one reservoir that we use for everything, not different types of willpower for different tasks

Glucose restores willpower
: sugar acts faster but protein and healthy foods are better

Willpower is like a muscle
: we gain more as we use it

Symptoms of willpower depletion
: irritability, strong emotions, going on mental autopilot. If you feel these after exertion, rest and restore glucose by eating

e.g.: Parole board judges are more likely to grant parole right after meals (10am and 1pm) because granting parole requires exercising more judgment. If you want people to change their mind, get them after a meal

Procrastination kills willpower
: it drains us over time, like a debt with interest

Impulsiveness is very bad
: pursuing immediate desires interrupts long-term goals and causes a lot of trouble: stress, disease, debt, crime

“The two strongest predictors of success are intelligence and self-control.”

Sleep, healthy food, exercise, and order
 increase willpower

e.g.: A made bed or a clean desk creates a cue that subtly reinforces discipline


Avoid temptation: resisting desires depletes willpower for other tasks. Put temptations like unhealthy foods and cigarettes out of sight

Avoid important decisions when depleted
: planning and judgment require more willpower than routine tasks and thus are best done when you’re fresh

Avoid multi-tasking
: it increases stress and doesn’t increase productivity or efficiency

Set goals
: they pull us in the right directions

Make a to-do list
: just the act of creating a plan and logging tasks reduces procrastination. The Zeigarnik effect is the drain of willpower by ignoring unfinished tasks

Baby steps
: focus on small improvements. They increase motivation and add up quickly

Reward success
: give yourself treats for accomplishing goals, including some limited indulgence

e.g.: if you avoid smoking for a month, invest the cigarette money you saved into a purchase you’d like

: adamantly committing to an action and mentally blocking alternatives reduces the willpower needed to act later

Track progress
: log your progress to recognize small successes and increase motivation. Tracking technology like FitBit and Mint can help

Recognize bad habits and create good ones
: routines sink in and make it harder or easier to act. Shaking up routines can change habits

Budget willpower like money
: choose to invest it in a few important things rather than expect to accomplish everything

Give yourself buffer
: we chronically underestimate the time to complete tasks. Use your history to predict your budget, then add buffer. It’s less stressful to complete fewer tasks than have many unfinished

Allow yourself setbacks
: progress on long-term goals is often two steps forward, one step back. Expecting perfection leads to drop-out

Postpone difficult temptations
: if something is hard to resist, tell yourself you can indulge in it later. This frees willpower and sometimes diffuses the desire. “Vice delayed can turn into vice denied.”

Structure procrastination
: if you really don’t want to do one task, trick yourself into doing a different important one

Set a time limit on chores
: time-bound tedious tasks so you at least start and gain momentum

Commit to the nothing alternative
: tell yourself to do either a chore or nothing. The nothing option becomes more painful than doing the chore

”You can sum up the research literature with a simple rule: the best way to reduce stress in your life is to stop screwing up.”


Our poor moms – how technology is still too damn hard

Yesterday I got a call from my mother that has been placed thousands of times to sons like me: “Mark, I can’t get the damn photos from my phone to my computer. Can you help me?”

I was tempted to say this ball is in Motorola’s court but since she birthed me, I felt obligated. For the next hour, I was reminded how bewildering technology can be to someone who did not grow up on it. Imagine you’re fifty and using a computer for the first time:

1. First we had to make the computer recognize her Motorola Cliq. The Motorola rep said she should just plug in the USB cable and click “my computer”, which is already confusing to a novice PC user but malpractice to a Mac owner like my mother.

Connecting the phone and computer launched two phone options: USB Drive and Share. Well, Share sounds promising – tapping through the menus, we realize that’s for sending photos via an internet data plan, which she doesn’t have. So we go with the oddly named USB Drive. This is where the photos are, but there’s no verb phrase like “Transfer photos.”

Poor interfaces use nouns. Good ones use verbs because that’s how consumers think. Engineers want to describe things, consumers want to do them.

2. “Nothing is happening”, she says. She says this a lot when we’re troubleshooting. I view her Macbook screen and she’s right, no apparent changes. I minimize four windows on her screen and there it is, a new dialog box that was hiding behind all the other windows. How would my mother know that was there?

3. Now we’re downloading the photos to her computer. As we talk via Skype, I notice her video window is at the smallest size. “Why don’t you full screen the video while we’re downloading?” “You can do that?” she asks. I show her a little icon with arrows pointing to the four corners. She clicks on it and “Wow! Now you’re all over my screen!”

The icon didn’t have text like “Full screen” and a newbie could reasonably think four outward arrows meant exit, or surround sound. Most tech novices don’t try to decode hieroglyphics and some are scared to experimentally click, just as most of us wouldn’t try either on an airplane dashboard. It’s all just filed in Stuff I Don’t Understand.

4. Now we have the photos on her computer. “I want to post my car on Craigslist. Where do I put the photo?” She’s used to click-and-drag so the concept of a web field that holds text which links to a photo is understandably bizarre. The whole separation of computer and internet can seem to a novice like brain and mind. Aren’t they the same thing?

The file upload button is named “Browse…”. Why Browse? My mother doesn’t want to casually explore her computer for exciting new photos; she has exactly one that she wants to find and upload.  When the photo is uploaded, the only confirmation she gets is a file location in the text field and Craigslist’s green O instead of a red X. A thumbnail is too fancy for the wizards at Craigslist.

We had a dozen issues like this – tech idiosyncrasies that anyone born after 1980 learned as native tongue, but everyone before is trying to deduce. What is a URL? When do I single-click and double-click? What’s the difference between downloading and installing? My mother had downloaded several programs that “weren’t working” because she never installed them. It took metaphors like “you brought the package into the house but didn’t open it” to explain.

My generation tends to snicker about our parents’ difficulty with technology, but the reality is that it is still too damn hard. We benefited from learning young. Technology forced our parents through arguably the fastest paradigm shift ever – physical to digital.

I often think about what shifts my generation will struggle with. Virtual reality? Neural implants? Already I am confused by the habits of teenagers. Why would you use Facebook’s inbox and texting when Gmail is so much better? Why would you send racy photos that are so easily forwarded? Why broadcast so much of your private life to a public world that will remember it, and maybe use it against you, forever?

This is what getting older feels like. Here’s hoping old age brings more wisdom than WTF.