Sunday, December 19, 2010

The Global Warming Saga: A simple view on an over-complicated story.

Andrew D Atkin:

I have already written on this issue, but I think I can make a clear and simple 'master picture' which I would like to contribute.

As follows:

Nobody is arguing that an increase in CO2 will lead to some increase in average global temperatures, in itself. But it is only a very mild greenhouse gas. If we doubled the CO2 concentration in our atmosphere (from where it is now) we would get around a 0.5 to 1 degree Celsius increase in average global temperatures, which is benign and probably even eco-beneficial.

[Our world would support more plant growth overall if it were a little warmer than today, and CO2 is plant food. CO2 is literally (and vitally) an atmospheric fertiliser].

So where is the argument? How the apocalypse? The argument from the IPCC (Inter-Governmental panel on Climate Change) is based on the idea that the marginal increase in warming coming from an increase in CO2 will be amplified by positive-feedback; that is, a slight increase in warming will heavily snowball via reactive processes in the atmosphere, so that we end up with a temperature increase not just about a half a degree greater (from the CO2) but eventually more like 3 or 5 degrees greater (or more?).

If I may speak frankly...Bollocks! If it were true that the earth responds to marginal increases in temperature with a positive-feedback loop (or "snowball" for common language), then we would have already turned into a Venus countless times over from temperature variations that have always (and continuously) happened throughout our ecological history (variations in the suns output being maybe the most significant).

Small, common changes in temperature do not lead to major changes in climate. The medieval warm-period did not turn into a runaway greenhouse effect.

So where did the IPCC get its evidence from? How did it reach its 'weird' conclusions? It did so from computer models. They developed computer programmes that (they claimed) simulated the environment.

Straight off the mark we should be laughing. Because to even suggest you can *accurately* simulate the climate for over a long period of time is a nonsense. This is like claiming divine knowledge - that we don't have. To model the environment so as to simulate it you have to understand it explicitly and be able to measure it - with all the many, many variables accurately accounted for.

First, we just can't do that (yet). We can barely measure known climatic variables, let alone (fully) understand how they all work against each other (which is no doubt why there is still so much debate, research and theory within climate science today). And even if we could measure and account for all the climatic variables (so as to develop accurate long-range cybernetic simulators) we would still require enormous long-term testing so as to develop a simulator that has a reasonable accuracy.

To believe that the IPCC has a "from the God's" cybernetic crystal-ball is one hell of a stretch.

Addition: 30-7-11: Here is an article that appears to vindicate my assertions. You will notice they're talking real world data - not computer models. The former answers to the latter, not the other way around. Models are the guess - real world measurements are the fact.


My conclusion is that we cannot take the computer models seriously. And also, the simple fact that trivial temperature variations (that happen all the time) do not lead to runaway-greenhouse effects suggests the obvious: that the IPCC is a political organisation established to achieve a political end. And an end that has nothing (nor ever did have anything) to do with saving the world from global warming.

Here is a relevant article by Lord Christopher Monckton, probably much more relevant than what I have just written:

And finally, people like Richard Lindzen (people who study direct measurements of climate - not people who pretend to believe in garbage-in/garbage-out computer simulators) have (supposedly) discovered that the climate is in fact a negative-feedback system (like a natural governor that tends to keep things constant). The latter is far more believable to me, because it would explain the relative stability of our climate in response to normal temperature variations.

...Monckton did another good talk, relating to my central points (posted 11-05-14):

Monday, December 13, 2010

Congestion charging? Yes!

Andrew D Atkin

The principle:

Let's say you started up a coffee shop in town and it proved to be super popular, because unlike the rest of New Zealand you understood the importance of quality-control when it comes to food. So, likewise, you then end up with more demand than you can supply. So what do you do?

You can either actively control (reduce) the demand by pushing up your prices, or you can let the demand manage itself (passively) by allowing big queues to form out your door (so with the queue your customers pay not with more cash, but with their time). Those are your two choices.

From a macro-economic outlook, using queues to control demand is wasteful; because, of course, "human resources" are left standing idle when they could have otherwise been producing (or whatever).

The economy will be richer overall if your coffee shop just increases its price to control the demand. Indeed, I believe that queues, at base, are just an expression of miss-pricing.


It's funny how people blame roads for congestion as though they are the problem in themselves. To me, that's a bit like blaming a coffee shop for creating a queue--So get rid of the good coffee shop?

Road congestion is basically just another queue - a queue of cars lining-up to use a popular road. It's a particularly expensive queue because it wastes a heck of a lot of fuel and wears out your car, as well as wasting your time.

Road congestion exists, of course, because it can be too difficult or expensive to build enough supply (more roads) and/or because the public will not accept demand-control for roads via pricing (aka congestion-charging).

Well, this is something that we urgently need to revise, especially for in a city like Auckland.

As follows:

The days of stopping for cumbersome toll-gates are gone. We can precisely and adaptively (adaptively = rapidly changing prices to suit immediate demand) price the roads anywhere and at any time.

Cameras can be set up to read your licence plate when you enter and exist a toll-road, and the administrative process can be fully automated. You can even option for direct-debit from your bank account and have the toll-bill sent to you via email.

We can go further than this still. If we employ a passive RF-tag on all cars integrated with a GPS system then we can abandon the cameras altogether, and people can review costs for going anywhere via the internet, using a real-time 'toll map'.

Sound expensive? Well, the money collected from tolling doesn't just disappear - it will be used to pay your rates. What the council doesn't get from tolls it will get from other means. So, congestion-charging isn't so much another cost, it's basically just demand-control. And you will of course save a lot of money from not having to idle your car nor waste your time in that queue.

The reaction:

If roads are tolled adequately enough so as to get rid of congestion, then the less affluent will tend be more careful with how they drive (or not). You will see an increase in demand for buses, car-pooling, and integrated trips (during peak demand time, at least). You will also see more telecommuting.

But travel will be much easier and more rapid alround, products will be cheaper to buy (because you don't pay more via the mark-up to cover excessive freight costs), and although you will get a toll-bill it will be met with a relative reduction in rates. Again, the money does not just disappear.

You should also get a notable increase in economic productivity, not only from the reduced (total) transport costs, but because un-congested roads can greatly improve accessibility between businesses and customers, providing for some improved economic integration*.

*Note: Some researchers claim that greatly increasing urban density will achieve this effect. I doubt it. The reader might like to review Phil McDermott's piece on this issue:

Congestion-charging Versus Tolling:

By my definition, congestion-charging is where you only toll enough so as to control congestion. Contrasting, straight tolling is based on maximising revenue.

Where congestion-charging is employed you will often see no toll during the off-peak times (because you just don't need it because there's no congestion to battle anyway), whereas there will always be a toll where revenue-based tolling is employed.

I prefer congestion-charging because it provides for the full utilisation of the road, and therefore maximises its productivity. With revenue-based tolling you end up pushing people off the road for even when there is a surplus of capacity.

Political resistance:

It was my prediction from a few years back that the ARC would resist investment in congestion-charging. Why? Because they have their Smart Growth vision and it just won't go away. And that is a vision of a high-density Auckland with concentrated development built up around the railway line...

The (then) ARC knows as well as I do that trains can't compete (on any level) with buses operating on congestion-free roads; and so they would have huge difficulty (as they do already) justifying wasting billions of dollars on their Smart Growth/rail visions ahead of the bus (and other) options, if rational congestion-charging were to be employed. So they want roads sick - not healthy.

And so far my prediction seems to be holding up. Alas, visionaries are simple thinkers: Something is either consistent (and therefore 'good') or inconsistent (and therefore 'bad') with their end-goal visions. Period.

The other resistance is trying to sell congestion-charging to the public who tend to only see an extra bill being presented to them. What can I say?
People, it's just so silly to use queues to control demand. Ultimately, you only end up paying more!


Addition: 14-2-11:

Public-Private Partnerships?

I am suspicious about the use of public-private partnerships (PPP's) in roading investment, because I don't know how it may affect the (toll-based) business model.

Will a government operating under a PPP be forced to operate a revenue-based model, and therefore employ traditional tolling rather than congestion-charging? If so, then it might be best to just stick to public funding for roads, at least for roads that are essential for the national interest. (And if the roads are in fact essential, then that would mean there is no effective investment-risk, and so the government would in turn have no good reason to have the private sector as a part-owner share what risk?)

As I explained earlier, revenue-based tolling reduces productivity because it reduces the utilisation of the road. Though the revenue from the toll-road would be increased, the productivity of the road will be reduced. And productivity is what we're after - not a money-go-round.

The private sector is of course exclusively focused on their bottom-line. The [non-monetised] social value of their operation means nothing, and because of this they can sometimes be inefficient and wasteful with respect to an ultimate social advantage. When this is the case, there can be a good argument for direct and maybe exclusive government involvement. Roads may be an example of this.


Addition: 17-4-14:

Letter to Julie-Anne Genter:

The included letter was sent 09-01-12. I thought I would include the idea for interest as it's relevant to this post:

Green Party MP
Julie-Anne Genter

Hi again,

I had a look through the idea of removing minimum parking requirements, and I agree with it. In my view the only reason why we had them in the first place is probably because we just never (previously) had the tools to meter all (or nearly all) parks, meaning we haven't yet been able operate a rational market model [addition: The same can be said for most roads - we never charged for them because it was just too impractical, except in exceptional situations such as for costly new bridges].

However, it's clear to me that we now have the tools to toll any park or road economically, using the system I suggest.

I wanted to forward this to you because it has become obvious to me that this system, surely, is by far the best way to go about it. And also it would need to be a national initiative for if it were to ever go ahead.

As follows:

1. Mandate passive RF-chips on all cars in New Zealand, to be fixed onto license plates for when the cars get their WOF. This of course provides an electronic signature for all cars registration.

Passive RF-chips are so cheap in themselves that they can be considered costless.

2. From here, you can install an RF-reader embedded-in or placed on top of the road. The RF-reader would basically be an extremely crude cellphone-type device that records the registration of all cars that pass over it. From here it can send a text via wireless internet to inform a master server of what/when/where a given car went through the gate. The reader can be solar-powered (only a tiny amount of power would be required to run it). It would likewise accumulate data and maybe send a text to a master server with its records, once a day. This is extremely simple and easy to install technology - no wiring required.

3. From here, your server will have all the information it needs to bill a driver for both toll roads and parking. Every driver will have an established account, and people can be sent a bill for their usage, usually as a PDF-file every month, and pay online too.

The administration can be (and naturally would be) almost totally automated.

4. Private sector ownership of car parks and roads will have their revenue paid to them through the Ministry of Transport, from the MoT's master server. Naturally it needs to be based on one national system to be practical.

-No one will want to muck about with multiple bills from multiple servers, and nor do they need to if you get the system right from the beginning and build a single core-system as the base. This is also why it would need to be an initiative developed by central government. It needs to be a national system so all cars can be charged. It's a bit of a chicken and egg thing - all the cars need to be chipped first.


I cannot conceive of a more efficient and practical system for providing user-charges on roads. And to stress there is no fundamental reason for it to be unduly expensive - the supporting technology is inherently cheap.

I do not believe the proposed system exists as of yet (from what I know at least?), but the government could certainly commission its development. There is no question it would work. It's based on nothing more than a crude information exchange using well established technologies. It's all solid-state electronics and therefore inherently reliable and low maintenance.

As I see it, it gives us the foundation to economically rationalise road usage which in turn allows us to do away with minimum parking requirements. Parking can become just another component of the market economic model.


Another thing you can do with this system is install the equivalent of speed camera's, for cheap. It's just a matter of embedding two readers, say 50 meters apart, on any given stretch of road so it can likewise measure vehicle speed as it enters and exists the gates, plus details.

I wonder how this would affect the road toll, having a "speed trap" on maybe every dangerous corner?

Road management:

The RF-readers can inform us of traffic conditions in real time, and very accurately. This can obviously help with traffic management.

Also, we can have congestion-charging with this system and on a detailed level, using maybe many toll gates because they're so cheap to install, anywhere. People can use the internet to get a detailed perspective on travel/parking costs at any given time of the day, as rates are always displayed online.

Reducing congestion is by far the most significant way we can reduce carbon emissions from road transport. Stop-and-go operation is the great "evil" of transport inefficiency in an urban environment.


Having a detailed time/location record of people's cars, that can be accessed when required, can no doubt help to fight crime.


I hope you found this idea of interest.

Thanks for your attention,

Andrew Atkin

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Am I a Tyrant?

Andrew D Atkin

A few days ago I had one of my 'scenario' thoughts, and wondered...If someone gave me the power to control the planet, then would I hand that power over for the sake of allowing a global democracy? The answer is no. I would keep the power to myself so as to force things to go the way I think they should go, whether others like it or not.

Why? Because I only trust democracy up to a point. I do not believe that people--nor corporations (and other) that manipulate people--can be trusted to make the right "big" decisions. And because we are now a massive world in terms of population, and now have potentially devastating power to destroy ourselves and our environment (via our technology and infrastructure), I would rather be a partial dictator for today simply to make sure that the worst (according to me) does not happen.

Hideously arrogant? Maybe. I would still do it though.

What exactly would I do?

I would introduce a system of reproduction licences to be employed globally. People will not be allowed to have children if they are in a messed-up state. The reproduction licences would also serve to control population when and as required.

Reproduction licences are the only thing I would specifically insist on, along with honesty and accountability in all aspects of social leadership. I would attack corruption on every level I can.

Other than that an "AndrewTopia" would be extremely prosperous, safe and free. It would protect people from the tyranny of bureaucrats and the raw power of money. It would also protect people from the "tyranny of the majority" which represent democracy at its worst.

It would be the end of occurrences such as the gulf oil spill and half the Amazon rainforest being destroyed for cheap meat etc. It would also be the end to true poverty (globally) within an incredibly short period of time - so easy to do.

My point:

If I can be this "arrogant" so as to claim ultimate power over the world, if I could, and in the name of my personal ideals, then can we expect a global elite to be any different? Would the reader be any different too?


Addition: 31-12-10:

It's a curious thought, but if you're born into the position of a functioning elite--be what/who they may??--you would then be left with the inheritance of incredible responsibility, whether you like it or not...

Sure you have the power to hand control of your world back to the democratic process, but if you have that power you must then ask yourself if you should really do as such? You would have to be deathly realistic about the consequences of your actions/inactions, because in substantial part at least it will be on your head if that democracy becomes diabolical - because you were the one who had the power to stop it.

You would have to think: If I allow for a true global democracy, then is it realistic to believe that psychopaths (and there are literally MILLIONS of them out there) will not be attracted to power*, of whom could (and eventually would?) someday use and abuse their nations ever more potent weapons of mass destruction, and the like? Would those consequences be on your head, Mr Elite, if you relinquished your power?
Hmmm...the best way to understand someone is often to just put yourself in their position.

My Optimum Sustainability is relevant here.

*And psychopaths are terribly good at obtaining power due to their ruthlessness, and shameless capacity for false-fronts and manipulation.

Note: Population control and Eugenics:

As an elite, you would have to confront the issues of population control, at least eventually. And in turn you would have to confront the issues of eugenics, because you can't really have one without the other.

When you control who can have how many kids, you are then a eugenicist by default, because even maintaining the biological status quo is "unnatural", because you would then be suppressing the "normal" process of reproductive success and failure throughout the human world.

My point is that the conspiracy theorists might be right. Because if we do have a virtual-elite with master control over everything, then not only may we need it, but that elite may have no (ultimate) choice but to control population and in turn make eugenic decisions.

Monday, November 15, 2010

EDUCATION: A new model

Andrew D Atkin:

Who said that turning up to a class in a state-regulated institute, and then learning alongside 20+ others to a strictly prescribed schedule/system, was the optimum way to learn? We should remember that, to a significant degree, the only reason why education worked/works the way that it does today is because we once-upon-a-time never had the tools to make it work any differently. Different world! So how should education work today? What is the modern structural optimum?

With the internet as an information/lecture-base there is no need to regulate anyone's education to a given time or timeline - anyone can now learn anything, whenever they want. And there is also (mostly) no need for traditional classrooms, as demonstrated by home-schoolers and also unregulated home-schoolers (unregulated = no state control at all, which is still allowed to exist in some countries.)

Education should also be "organic". It should--because it now can--evolve with the individual. We should learn as we work, and learn what we need to learn as we need to learn it. Education should basically move much closer to the apprenticeship model which is inherently more efficient, because the material is learnt in relation to real-world experiences (and therefore not learnt in a superficial way) and you can (and do) cut back on an enormous amount of irrelevancy.

Most tertiary education should be for only about 6-12 months as an exclusive and preliminary occupation, and then from there the individual should learn alongside the development of their career.

What's more, the line between tertiary and secondary education should be blurred. I see no reason why secondary education cannot specialise closer to vocational training, for those who want it.

Role of the state?

Well, the best thing we can do is acknowledge that there is no need for the state to have any substantial involvement in education at all. Children have proven that they can efficiently learn the fundamentals without government prescriptions. And that's not an opinion, it's a demonstrated fact.

A good reference: Sudbury Valley School

However, there can still be a role for the government in that they could and should provide the basic architecture for an educational information service.

The following is an extract from my "Personal Public Policy Ideals" post, relating to education. I still feel very confident that I have the right model from a state-involvement perspective.

As follows:


Education is the parents and students responsibility.

A child's development belongs to the child - not the state. If anyone has the right to regulate a child's education it is the parent.

Note: To interpret a child as a 'human resource' to be exploited by the state (for the national interest) is to take an extreme social-democratic position. The Liberal party absolutely opposes this outlook, within education in particular. Providing incentives to encourage people to become what would be most attractive for the national advantage can be acceptable in itself, depending on the circumstances. However, using actual compulsion for that objective (as though the state owns the child as their personal resource) most certainly is not.

-The government will test for basic literacy and numerical skills once children reach the age of 10 years. If a child fails the test, then government-compulsion may eventually be introduced for the child of concern. Primarily for the sake of the children, we need to ensure the universal development of these most fundamental skills.

Literacy and numerical skills are so fundamental and unambiguously necessary that the government could consider the neglect of the development of these skills a form of child abuse (though not extreme). Though government intrusion should be kept at a minimum, the government should still do a basic check on children's development, and ultimately take compulsory action if basic skills are not being actualised in reasonable time.

Note: Testing should begin from the age of about 10-12 years. The idea that children specifically need to start developing literacy and numerical skills at the very early ages of around 4-7 years is a proven myth. Children in alternative-education occasionally learn literacy and numerical skills from as late as about 10-13 years, and with sound competence and in good time (late-starting does not generally mean late-finishing). Parents and children should be able to prioritise other aspects of development before the ages of 10-12 years, if they wish. Children almost always learn a subject best when they are personally ready to apply themselves to it.

-The government will provide an internationally standardised testing/qualifications service for those who need formal recognition for their academic development. Individuals must pay for the testing/qualifying process, though only at cost price.

People should have to pay for the qualifications process because that is fair (a qualification is a professional asset) and we need to incentivise people to not bother sitting exams that they will probably fail.

-There is no prerequisite to sit any given test (other than financial payment). An achieved qualification will be dictated by the individuals ability to pass the prescribed test.

A qualification should represent exactly what it is meant to represent - knowledge and skill obtained. Not how, where or when you learned.

-The government will provide an extensive free-to-view educational resources provided online. (This resource may run into the hundreds of millions of dollars to initially develop.)

This provides open and free learning for all people [those seeking a qualification, information, or just satisfying or developing interests] for an almost negligible cost (once established).

The online multi-media format is an exceptionally efficient tool for educational learning, and it is still severely under-utilised. If the government provides a broad online service for free, then that would optimise productivity (by making the service more attractive and therefore more used) and eliminates most administrative costs. The resource should be progressively developed on the bases of critical user-feedback.

Net meeting: The online resource should also be integrated with direct links to relevant tutors, experts and consultants. This way students and professionals can get key information quickly and efficiently. An independent credit system should also be integrated with the site, so users can purchase professional services automatically (no cumbersome transactional processes). With the development of cheap broadband, it should also provide direct links to appropriate documentaries, for where relevant productions can be found.

-Though the state will remove itself from the tax-and-subsidy cycle within education as much as possible, the state will ensure that professional education is affordable for all New Zealand citizens.

As soon as the government hooks itself up to education via a tax-and-subsidy cycle, it takes then liberty to impose conditions to ensure that tax-payers money is "well spent". In turn the government inherits a controlling stake in education which can and does lead to intrusion.

Education for the young is an extremely sensitive (and highly ideological) territory, and indeed there is a lot of controversy associated with government-mandated learning systems today [learning systems that have more to do with mental-conditioning than academic learning]. My point is the room for violation of a child's autonomy and a parents rights through government-imposition is substantial and serious. The government should remove itself from the tax-and-subsidy cycle as much as possible for the immediate and long-term protection of children's and parent's rights.

Note: It pays to appreciate that the tests that we employ to measure educational achievement are based on subjectively-derived parameters, and even the tests themselves have an accuracy and meaning which is ultimately subjectively-interpreted. The science (research-based) that we have today only tells us how to get kids to perform on prescribed tests; it does not and cannot tell us what the tests (and therefore supporting curriculum) should actually be, nor what the tests ultimately represent. In other words, there is no such thing as an authority in education, at least not of the type that could justify prescriptive control over your child's development. It's important to understand that when you buy into someone else's standards in education, then you also, wittingly or not, buy into their subjective ideology. No one has scientific authority to define what somebody else's educational development should be, because correct or ideal educational development is impossible to define (non-subjectively) let alone measure. In a metaphorical nutshell: You can measure someone's ability to perform on an IQ test, but you can't measure their intelligence.

-Government educational establishments will not teach values on a compulsory bases.

It is not the place of the state to teach values, neither directly nor indirectly, excluding of course the most fundamental values which boil down to promoting and enforcing basic respect for others.

Values can ultimately be taught in schools, but only at the parents volition. This also applies to values relating to professional and life-balance priorities (it is for individuals to define for themselves what is 'success' or 'achievement' etc.), and even the value of academic education itself i.e. 'existential values' should also be respected as the student's own concern.

Tertiary education:

-The government will not differentiate between the tertiary sector and other educational sectors. Tertiary education subsidies will be reduced to only what is certainly required for the national economic advantage.

A tertiary student has no more right to demand "free" education than the tax-payer has the right to refuse to pay for it. However this position should not intimidate tertiary students. Tertiary education (like all education) does not need to cost much for students who are prepared to learn independently (or in independent study-groups).

-To win a qualification students only need to pay for the testing process. Contrary to the status quo, there will be no instituted forced-dependency on educational service-providers, and likewise there will be no forced-expenditure. Most educational programmes will be freely available online.

With the presented policies, most students will in fact have far greater freedom to learn in their own way and time, and ultimately at much lower personal cost relative to the way that they usually must learn today. And of course, when they enter the workforce they will not be paying (much) for other people's education through their taxes.

Early childhood education:

-There will be no specific policy relating general early childhood education. However, young children will be subject to compulsory periodic evaluation [possibly every 6 months for under 5 year-olds] to check for gross developmental problems and child abuse. Compulsory measures may ultimately be enforced if serious issues are identified.



Funding note:

We are always being told that education should be "free". But as I like to say..."If eduction were free then we wouldn't have to pay for it out of our taxes". Obviously the 'free' mantra is nonsense employed to (apparently) justify state-funding and therefore state-control over children's educational development. The truth is we should relate to children's education in the same way that we relate to their other basic needs. The state should only step in and help out with funding (via the family support system) when it is actually required. Otherwise the government should give parents their tax dollars back, and basically butt out of it. We need to get rid of the manipulative word "free" and replace it with the genuine ideal of just "universal affordability".

But this is so obviously the right thing to do, is it not? So why doesn't education funding work like this already? A good answer is that we have a voting army of thousands of primary and secondary school teachers, not to mention the subsidised tertiary sector. The bigger the public service gets, the more politically difficult it becomes to reform it (ask France!).

And this is why the general public needs to stop passively listening to the (naturally) self-serving teaching profession, and likewise insist on the comprehensive destruction of their effective monopoly rights over children's education. It's only the right thing to do!


Addition: 21-11-10:

The public never voted for government control over their education systems. Yet we have it and we (now) accept it. Most of us send our kids to this thing we call school to have their educational (and don't forget social*) lives dictated to by the state, and usually we allow this without even batting an eyelid over it.

In principle this situation is extraordinary, because education as we know it is, by default, a truly profound invasion on the individual by the state.

We have been successfully conditioned into believing (assuming) that it is naturally the way things should be. So what else have we been (or can we be) sucked into believing, over time? Who knows. Maybe just about anything?

*Social note: Is it not perverse that the state dictates so much your child's (non-family) social life, via forced associations/non-associations within the schools? More stuff that we surely should never have accepted?
May I be emotive?...The arrogance of any individual/organisation to believe that they have the right to control the parameters of your (and your child's) social life! To me, this current "normality" of government-directed forced-associations is actually quite disgusting.

Another thought: How much of this thing we call "peer pressure" ultimately revolves around the fact that a child cannot get away from those other people who may enforce conformity-conditions onto them that they would rather not have to tolerate, if only they had the choice? We talk so freely about the social pressures young people are subject to and the issues associated with it...So how about also talking about the people who create those (intrusive) social pressures in the first place?


Addition: 12-6-11:

Real learning:

Imagine I got you to learn 100 different words and their meanings, and I then tested you with a test that required that you explain the meaning of each learned word presented to you. You then, say, got 100% of the meanings right.

But would this be an expression of an expanded vocabulary? No.

Your vocabulary is an expression of the words that you naturally use in conversation. They are the words that are learnt as opposed to just remembered. If you only remember the words, as isolated knowledge, then your learning is left sitting on a superficial and frankly useless level of your mind. Yes, that test score might say "100%", but it still only measures what it measures - words remembered, not learnt. Straight A's in bullshit is still bullshit.

With this simple example I'm making the point that every practical person intuitively knows: that you don't learn what you learn until you WORK WITH what you learn, and in a real and natural way. Until then your education will be impotent - not assimilated into your intellectual centre, where it can be applied.

And this is why, like I said earlier, education should evolve with the individual through the development of their career/s. It is far more efficient and effective. Both society and the individual would get so much more bang for their buck if we moved heavily towards the apprenticeship model, which we can now at last do.


Addition: 15-12-11:

The importance of context in learning:

There was an interesting experiment in memory done many years ago, where a group of people were required learn a list of words underwater, with scuba gear. When the group was asked to recall the words on open land they did so poorly as compared to when they went back underwater, and recalled the words from there.

What this experiment showed us is that memory is context-based. When we recall something (that is not yet heavily reinforced) we effectively go back into the context that the original memory was laid down in, and from there we allow our brain to 'regurgitate' the recorded memories. So we go back to the context via imagination. This is what we do when we 'strain to remember' something.

Note: Hypnotism does the same thing, only the imagination--and likewise isolation from the present--is more comprehensive, and so the recall is more detailed and complete.*

I believe that the reason why we don't usually like learning in an academic context, and why most of us find it so tedious and painful, is because the academic context itself is (usually) just not real. So our brain resists it. On a pragmatic level we resist it for good reason; memories need to be linked to the real-world context to be properly retrieved and utilized. And indeed, when is academia interesting? When it is taught in a manner where the information is related to the real world that we know.

Again this reinforces my point that all learning should, as much as possible, evolve with the individual in their proper real-world context. We need to get out of the academic halls of ritualized bullshit and allow learning to become natural again - because we finally have the tools to do it!

*I am suspicious that the difference between someone who is academic and someone who is not is that the academic, psychologically speaking, can "make a home" out of the academic context itself.
I'm speculating, but like with hypnosis an academic disposition could be related to a kind of detachment whereby the mind does not have to compete with a real-world context, of which would otherwise demand the proper association of learned material. In other words, for some people the academic context is the real-world context.
Maybe this is why 'bookish' people often struggle to be practical, and are later dependent on an institutional context to function? They [literally] can't get their minds out of the books?


Addition: 07-03-13:

This is a great video - reinforcing and demonstrating my point about the feasibility of online learning.


Addition: 19-07-13:

Now this is interesting. Google, being a massive company, has done internal research to actually measure (not assume) the real commercial value of tertiary training, relating to their staff. They came to the conclusion, after studying their own data, that grade point average's don't mean anything because they do not correlate to positive professional performance, except to a small degree for people who are fresh out of college. And the latter is a difference that disappears after about 2 or 3 years.

This is the kind of research that should have been done a long time ago. Education is an enormous cost, and the least we should be expecting is scientific study into its value that normalises for cultural assumptions. Of course we had to wait for the private sector to do the obvious. 

What a disgrace that we have spent the last 50 years + heavily subsidising tertiary education (and other) without even trying to seriously determine its real commercial value.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Are you Pregnant?

Andrew D Atkin:

Did you know that most children born (truly) non-traumatically turn out to be ambidextrous? And you thought having a hand dominance was normal! Well, it is normal. But being altered by a problematic birth is normal too, and of course that's probably not the kind of normal you want to be part of, insofar as you can help it.

Read on to learn how you can have the most 'normal' birth possible.


Birth is a highly vulnerable time for a baby. It's a time when imperfections in delivery can (and will) have a severe or even profound long-term impact on the baby, due to traumatic imprinting. [See my Understanding Mental Sickness to learn about trauma-imprinting].

Birth in itself is not traumatic for a baby, but it so easily can be traumatic as things can too easily go wrong. Most of us have in fact received significant damage from a less-than-ideal birth, and the personal costs are more serious than we can realise.

Several years ago I gave the following recommendation to a pregnant friend of mine, to help optimise her birth. She had an excellent birth (about 3.5 hours in labour + no complications) and she was very happy with it.

Here was the formula:

1. Dim lights in the delivery room.

A baby's senses are 'tuned' differently to an adults so they can't moderate input like we can. They can be traumatised by "normal" input. [Refer to Frederick Leboyer's classic: "Birth without Violence"]

2. Keep the room quiet.

3. Warm room.

4. No drugs (unless you come to desperately need them).

The birthing process is governed by all kinds of hormones and chemical processes, switching important biological functions on and off. Because of this, drugs can directly interfere with the birthing process, and directly interfere with the baby's physiology as well.

A drugged baby's body cannot respond properly just as a drugged mothers can't. Reducing a baby's ability to adapt will only increase their exposure to damage. (Not to mention that the drugs are damaging in their own right). A relaxed, non drugged-up mother/baby is going to be less likely to need forceps and the like.

5. Natural delivery (no elective C-section).

A baby needs to be stimulated by contractions before coming into the world. Traumatic-imprinting from "canal deprivation" can lead to an [unnaturally] passive and phlegmatic personality.

Also, vaginal mucus is forced into a baby's stomach during natural birthing, which is apparently important for the development of the baby's immune system - a bit like breast feeding.

6. Get comfortable. (The doctors first take orders from you - not the other way around).

My friend told her doctors how she wanted her birth to be, and she said to them: "I don't want to be swearing at anyone (if they didn't do things her way) during my birth".

A bit of "I-will-make-life-difficult-for-you" can go a long way? As a precaution, I would probably make the same kind of statements myself. You don't want a doctor pulling the plug on your authority at the last minute.

7. Do not cut the umbilical cord until the baby is independently breathing.

Common sense?

8. The baby is to be handed over to (and put on) the mother immediately after birthing.

The ultimate social trauma = Remove a baby from its mother immediately after birth.

(This is like me opening up a hole into another universe and then throwing you into it).

9. The baby is to stay with the mother after birthing, for several hours at least.

It is a fact that complex attachments between mother and baby develop during this critical time, like they do for other mammals as well.

10. Maintain a calm and comfortable environment.

A newborn baby is no "protoplasm". This is when/where they need sensitive care more than ever.

11. Do not circumcise your baby boy unless it really must be done. And if you do, use an anaesthetic.

Unnecessary circumcision (...and pre-1980 in New Zealand it was conducted without anaesthetic) was/is a truly stupid and barbaric process. Babies would go blue, pass out, and in some cases even die from the pain.

...Did you know: When babies are born non-traumatically they do not scream or cry immediately after their delivery. Yes, that rasping cry from the newborn baby is not normal.

Addition: 14-8-13: The following is Penn and Teller's anti-circumcision episode. It's difficult to watch, but important nonetheless. This practice is first-order child abuse. Why is it still legal?


Many people prefer home-birthing because they want to avoid the clinical setting and have a more natural birth. Good on them, but I don't see why home-birthing needs to be at home as such. Why not create a homely setting directly backed-up with medical facilities (on standby) should it come to be that you need them? Why not have the best of both worlds? This is what my friend did, and her delivery was excellent.

My central point to the pregnant (or one-day pregnant) reader is that you have nothing to lose by taking direct control of your birth and ensuring that it goes your way, which should (hopefully) be a natural way. The result can be a child with significantly less 'primary' emotional damage than what's common within in our society today, which is good not only for the child but the parents of course. Indeed; a happy, lively baby that is not irritable and 'difficult' is going to get the best of what their parents can give them, so the advantages compound. A really good start means a lot.


Pre-birth note:

Babies are incredibly sensitive to the status of their mother while in the womb. We now know that how a mother feels (and what she consumes) directly impacts her baby on the epigenetic level. This means that the status of the mother actually controls what genes are and are not finally manifest in the baby. There may be (and probably are) powerful womb-time trauma-imprints as well.

Regardless, research has shown that it is beyond argument that the status of the mother/womb is all-important for a child to avoid long-term developmental, behavioural and health problems later in life.

It is so important for a mother to keep away from drugs and a bad diet during this time, and important that she does what she can to avoid stress and be happy. A pregnant woman should never underestimate the importance of how she feels - her baby's physiology is literally dependant on it.

Post-birth note:

The younger your baby is, the more vital your job is. Everything I said in the pre-birth note also applies post-birth, though to a less profound degree.

A mother should do her best to keep well, both mentally and physically, for the first year of her baby's life especially. Other priorities such as buying a house or being financially independent etc. should be strictly secondary during this critical time, in my view.

I also believe that children should stay at home with their mothers (no outsourcing to a daycare centre) at least up until the age of about 6.


Addition: 08-05-14:

I don't know what the statistics are on rates of birth complications (I will try to find them later on) but I notice all the young girls at my work are having major birthing complications, and to a point where I would guess it's as common as 80% or higher. Honestly it's starting to seem like all their births are a mess.

Where do these complications come from? Suggestions. Drugs are a huge factor. They completely 'ram' the birthing process, as I commented earlier. They lay the foundation for creating the very problems that the medical industry exists to solve.

Another factor is just not doing what comes natural for you, and religiously conforming to the dictates of the obstetrician. Remember that your doctor is scared of being sued. If he does anything "outside the box" or even personally recommends anything outside the box, then he takes the risk that if anything goes wrong then he might be liable...because it happened on his recommendation. So your doctor may not tell you what he really believes.

Can you relate to this? I myself, in my own work, often don't do things that I think would be best and for no other reason than if something happened to go wrong, and I'm not following the book, then I might be liable. No thanks. I would rather just do things the stupid way, whether it makes a mess of things or not, because then I'm protected no matter the outcome - the disasters become my bosses problem, not mine. You want to think about that. It's up to you, women, to take control of your birth. You live in a world where everyone's first priority is to cover their own butts, and again you need to keep that in mind. Seek out advice that is not inhibited or "contaminated" and make your decisions from there.

Monday, November 1, 2010

The Milgram Experiment: Blind obedience to Authority

Andrew D Atkin:

The Milgram experiment is a famous psychology experiment. It brought attention to common responsiveness to authority, and to how a normal person can torture and even kill someone when a perceived authority tells them to do so.

I believe that the essence of what the Milgram experiment shows us basically relates to the dynamic of displaced responsibility, which itself mostly comes from a blind (as it often is) faith in authority.

We assume that the authority knows best, so we can (and do) do their "dirty work" and with only the faith that it's for a higher and ultimately justified good.

VIDEO of the Milgram experiment.

.....Some "Milgram in action":


A couple of weeks ago I was watching a documentary on the Discovery Channel about Blast Fishing. This is where people from third-world countries use cheap explosives to blast-out an area of coral reef, because it offers a cheap and fast way to catch a few fish (the fish just float to the surface dead, after the blast). The problem with it is that it totally destroys the coral eco-system from over a wide area of the blast, which in turn takes hundreds of years to recover.

A man was interviewed who performed blast-fishing (which is illegal, for the record) and was asked how he justified his actions. He emphatically stated that he was doing nothing against his religion - he said that he did not steel, lie or kill.

I think this is a good example of the Milgram effect. The man had effectively displaced moral responsibility for his actions onto his religion. As long as it was ok according to his religion, he could be "happily blind" (morally) to whatever else he was doing. This is similar to what I have written about before, where I describe the mentality of.. "All I have to do is follow the 10 commandments and Jesus will clean up the mess", which religion can create I believe.

It boils down to the same dynamic: displacing responsibility onto a [perceived] higher authority, and going "conveniently" blind to what is real.

The Group:

I would say "the group" is the strongest functional authority for most of us, and the strongest authority that we displace responsibility to. Countless people eat meat, for example, without feeling the need to give even a second thought as to whether or not it is morally acceptable*, and for no other reason than everyone else is doing it.

Of course you could catalogue a library's worth of historic "mob" behaviours of questionable morality.

*I am not saying it's either good or bad to eat meat here, only that the morality of it is often not even tested.


Another famous experiment: The Asch experiment:

It following video (very short) makes quite a statement of the power of the group over the individual.

The Asch experiment reminds me of one of my old sayings..."If everybody thinks what everybody else thinks, and only because everybody else thinks it, then who exactly is doing the thinking?"


The Military:

The military gives us an obvious and striking example of the Milgram dynamic, because the military is completely dependant on the direct displacement of responsibility from subordinates to above.

Shouldn't military personnel be checking intensively to make sure their boss's are doing the right thing? Isn't that the least you can do if you going to go around killing people in someone else's name? Alas, I doubt enormously that it would be encouraged. Indeed, the hyper-patriotic mentality (of which is heavily indoctrinated into military personnel) works directly to dis-encourage it.

It's unfortunate, but the military is and always has been dependant on blind obedience to function. The obvious cost is that ultimate power doesn't have to answer to itself, leaving the door open for Tyrants.

Note: Apparently compulsion schooling as we know it today was a direct import from early Germany. It was, as I understand, originally (and specifically) designed to produce good (obedient) military personnel.
You can see how virtually every child that grows up gets the overwhelming message from school--and usually parents too--that obedience is inherently equitable to virtue.


In my view we all need to learn about the Milgram experiment, so we can understand how dangerous we can be. The Milgram experiment shows us how people who aren't really "bad" can still much too easily do bad. Fronting-up to the Milgram dynamic could do a lot to help us not let it get the better of us.

We can see that we need to actively hold our authorities to account. Displacing responsibility on the basis of a mere faith in authority is immoral, because it can and does lead to immoral actions of which did not otherwise need to occur.

Finally, I will point out that an authority that does not like to be questioned or challenged is the worst kind of authority, because that is an authority that wants you to behave like the people in the Milgram experiment. Of course we should never accept this.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

An Internationally Standardised English - please!

Andrew D Atkin

In our new internet-age and ever more globalised world it makes sense to me that we should all be speaking a universally understood language, and ideally as everyone's first language. Of course we are already moving in this direction (with English) but we could still be doing it so much faster and more efficiently.

Here is my idea:

Using the United Nations as a centralised authority, we could develop an internationally standardised form of English: English "Systems International".

An SI-English should first be cleaned-up so as to get rid of unnecessary complexities/contradictions that exist within common English today. We could even look at other possibilities such as expanding the alphabet; that is, maybe creating more (new) letters so as to allow us to more efficiently group sounds. English would be easier for young people (and foreigners) to learn if the letters were more directly correlated to their phonic associations.

An SI-English could be open to updates say every 5-10 years.

A supporting website could provide free education for anyone to learn SI-English. The website should also provide audio downloads for properly pronounced English. (Pronunciation should be standardised to help overcome the problem of understanding people with extreme accents).


To me this idea is common sense. Language, before anything, is just a communication system and in principle it is silly to have everyone speaking all kinds of different languages in a tightly connected world. We should go out of our way to drive for the process of standardisation, and through our standardisation we should also take the opportunity for fundamental improvements as well. It's easy to do, and it's worth it.


A little uninformative, but I have to agree with Mr B'stard:

Friday, October 22, 2010

Mobile Robots?

Andrew D Atkin

We are entering the age of ubiquitious robotics. This is no longer a topic for just the geeks - everyone should be interested.

The introduction of ubiquitous robotics could bring in a new era of productive automation. Not so much for our domestic lives, but for many areas of services, maintenance and industrial production. I think we will soon see robotics expanding out from the limited confines of mass-production plants alone.

These future-focused people who try to build robots that part look and act like humans, so as to (supposedly) perform human functions, have got it wrong. Making a robot to simulate a human is as reasonable as making an aircraft that flaps its wings. Like with aircraft, the structural optimum for a mechanical system is completely different to a biological system.

However, I do believe we will see the ubiquitous implementation of flexible, mobile robots in the near future of which may come to offset a vast amount of human labour.

Enabling technologies:

The key enabling technologies that may drive a new era in robotic implementation are the internet, and motion/boundary detection systems (like what many cars have today). It is vital that a flexible, mobile robot can detect its surroundings not only to efficiently transport itself, but to detect people and other objects moving into its path. If a human, for example, moves into a robots paths then the person will be instantly detected, the robot will stop, then signal to the person to get out of the way. The safe functionality provided by boundary detection allows the robot to move rapidly, which is of course essential for productive output. Robots are only going to be deployed when they make economic sense over human labour.

The internet is also essential so as to allow the robots to be efficiently remote-controlled. The great advantage of using the internet as a base to remote-control robots is that you can have one remote-controller assisting maybe tens or even hundreds of robots at a given time. This is because a human only needs to cut in and take over from automated operation periodically. So, when the controller is not assisting a given robot he can then switch over to another robot. Hence, the internet provides an economical option to tide us over from what "fuzzy logic" cannot yet do. Robotics designers do not need to be so obsessed with making flexible robots "think". They just need to first integrate them with the internet.

So what will the 'common' robot look like? For the sake of some perspective, here is my guess:

Robots will become ubiquitous when we start to standardise and mass-produce flexible versions of them, and with many standardised (and compatible) major components.

I would say that the most ideal structure, for common applications, would simply be a robotic arm mounted on a mobile base. It would not simulate a human hand because that would be impractical and unnecessary. The arm would usually come with a tool-kit of several "hands", each hand designed as a specialised tool to perform a specific function.

Stereoscopic remote viewing:

A more minor enabling technology is with stereoscopic remote viewing. 3d-TV systems can now comfortably provide for this.

This sounds information-intensive, but I will point out that you can dramatically compress video information with the use of what I call "spotlight compression". You can target the focus-point for low-compression definition, and then heavily compress other (unimportant) visual information around it. This is perfectly feasible when you only need visual information of the type to carry out a mechanistic task.

In some ways being able to use an adaptable camera will provide better visual feedback than what can be achieved by being in the location in person. You can mobilise the camera for a most explicit and stable view. Also, visual anti-shake programmes will allow the remote-controller to see comfortably in any circumstance, while the robot is doing work.

Ultimate video compression:

The ultimate in video compression would have to be a system whereby the viewed imaged is reduced to a geometric representation, so that the visual information is compressed into a connect-the-dots type of format. Basically, imagine a camera and also laser viewing the image and reducing it to a CAD (computer aided drafting) information description. The image is then reconstructed at the remote-viewers end as a CAD drawing. Only a tiny amount of information would be required for streaming over the internet, for a comprehensive image.

This would deliver an image that's a bit surreal looking, like a typical computer-generated image, but it would actually make remote-controlling easier as it makes the boundaries of the object more clear to the eye. It also compensates for poor lighting.

Ultimately 3d images (true stereoscopic images) can be formed in this manner, making remote controlling even easier.


All mobile robots will generally run on wheels - they're cheap, rapid and efficient. In some cases they will employ legs for walking as well, but only if absolutely necessary. They will have retractable legs for static stability. I would also imagine a counter-weight will be employed for when the front leg cannot be extended.

The robot can rapidly access a rotating tool-kit (around its "waist") for any given tool. On top of the robot would be a sensor assembly. At the base of the robot would be a rechargeable battery-stack.

They will generally be driven by many small electric motors - not hydraulics. They will probably use blue-tooth technology for wireless internal actuation, within the robotic arm.

The robot will also develop its own mobility map. This means that once it has stationed itself at a given point, it will remember that point. In turn a remote-controller will only have to indicate to the robot the point it needs to be at, and the robot will automatically move there and without remote assistance.


Even if a 4-foot robot of this type cost $100,000 a piece, if it can displace one human labourer then it would cover its costs in maybe just a couple of years (especially if it can be in operation 24/7). So, we should expect to see the progressive implementation of these kinds of devices as the technology to make it practical is pretty much here today.

However, economies-of-scale is a major factor, and it will no doubt take time for simple robots to be mass-produced efficiently. But again, with the key enabling technologies established, we could safely predict that we will see the far-reaching implementation of mobile robotics soon. And once this progression gets a foothold, it should rapidly build on itself.


Addition: 3-4-11

A major and growing application for robotics is military. The spin-off technology for civil applications will be invaluable. The following video is very interesting, and the speaker provides a well-rounded talk.

Addition: 3-4-13:

And another great talk, on the da Vinci system (used for advanced keyhole surgery). The technology within the da Vinci system could be scaled-back, and used in all kinds of applications.

Mechanical dexterity all you really need, because the software and internet-integration will be evolutionary and, once you have your mechanistic foundation, can seamlessly merge into existing systems without expensive retrofitting.

Addition: 6-3-14:

The weak link behind practical robotics will have more to do with mechanics than information processing, as the information component can and will rapidly advance, and hopefully from an open source format.

I think we can expect to see a heavy research focus on making robots that are light and efficient, reliable and low maintenance - that is, a focus on the non solid-state part of the game, because over the long-term that's where the biggest cost barriers are going to be.

Two things that could have a big impact to this end are the use of springs within robotic arms that allow most long-range physical movements to operate like a pendulum (think of a metronome) so that mechanic energy is generally stored and recovered as the arm moves from one point to the next. This will take a large part of the load off the motors, and breaking mechanisms, in terms of both mechanical stress and energy consumption.

Another idea is to make robots that are relatively low-precision with their bulk movement, but high-precision with low-range detailed movements: Basically, think of a small robotic arm mounted at the end of a big robotic arm, and think of the big arm making large low-precision sweeps to a given location point, and then from there rigidly breaking/locking into position, whereby the small high-precision robotic arm then finishes the final action by moving independently to the main body of the (then rigid) robot. This approach may help notably to increase precision and lower real costs.

Addition: 6-4-14:

Another interesting video, showing us how far and fast robotics technology is moving along. Motional-feedback systems are a critical component of flexible robotic actuation. And it allows us to achieve operational precision without great (mechanistic) expense, as the feedback loop corrects for errors (just like with animals).

Another important tool will be hand-gesture tracking, for remote controlling. I can see people's arms being suspended from the ceiling of their home offices, on a long sprung cable. Camera's will track body movements in detail and link them directly to the actuation of a remote robotic arm (just like in the Avatar move). This must be the most efficient way a human can control a robotic arm, second to forming a direct brain-to-machine neural link.

With motional-feedback robotic movements can be very rapid, because the robotic arm can avoid boundaries while it's being controlled, and it can operate within programmed parameters in any circumstance ie. the controller doesn't need to be careful, the robot will do that for you. You can generally just be "sloppy" and fast.

Addition: 20-05-14:

And more. The manufacturer's focus is virtual reality, but 'remote reality' is what we're really after for a robotics revolution, and these kinds of systems are nonetheless very important to that end.