What Can Speculative Fiction Teach Us About Scarcity, Resources and Markets

I am a fan of speculative fiction (science fiction) and was surprised to consider how many of these stories contain an economic bent.  There are plenty of stories that include the adoption and use of science, but for many stories, there remains the use of science to advance society and create wealth (To boldly go where no one has gone before?) But why is economics so attuned with science fiction?

Economics is about the allocation of scarce resources.  In many ways, science fiction discusses scarcity, such as the lack of air (Total Recall), Land (Waterworld), Spice (Dune), Food (Soylent Green), or other resources.  In these, and other stories, the characters seek ways to collect, mine, create, or otherwise  acquire something of value.  Often these characters require the engagement with others to assist in the quest, a potential buyer, or some advisory that prevents either the collection or exchange of an item to occur.  (Which is one  of the reasons that markets feature in so many stories, such as from Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets.  This markets provide a place for an exchange to occur, for no one is self-sufficient in an complex world.)  

Which leads to something else that lies at the heart of economics:  markets.  One can define a market as possessing three characteristics (although the Encyclopedia Britannica lists a few other items):

1.  A buyer,

2.  A seller, or

3.  A good or item to exchange between parties.

And one could add are few more caveats:

  • A medium for discussion (how do we discover information about the product and a price?)
  • A way to allocate geography (where is the product?)
  • A scarce resource that people value (is there a way to put a value on this product?)
  • An agreement regarding when the transaction occurs (how will we know when we reached a solution?)
  • Consent for the transaction to occur (are both parties agreeing to the outcome?).

If an exchange is/is not made, all parties agree to an outcome based on the what, the where and the when, that occurred.  As such, one could say the market is closed even if an agreement was not reached. (If one of these assumptions are not meet, while the exchange can occur, one would say that anything short of these tenants would be theft.) 

But even within the market and the assumptions are met, there are several stories that have an economic angle that drives some characters…

1. the potential power between the two parties (monopolies, competition).  The following story discusses how an electronic market is set up to handle resources in the Martian colony  (Escape Pod Martian Chronicles, Part 1 and Part 2).   

2. the potential for external observers to dictate a transaction (regulation),  Again, not all transactions are legal, or can be frowned upon, such as hauling children (Guardians of the Galaxy 2).

3. the presence of alternative goods/choices (opportunity costs), such as managing people as in the “The Evening, the Morning and the Night”.  

4. the timing of the final exchange (time value of money), the Restaurant at the End of Universe where compound interest pays for the final meal.  

5. determining a market price, such as in “Chivalry” by Neil Gaiman, where an elderly woman negotiates the value of the Holy Grail, read by Levar Burton,

6. the process of collecting resources and skills, such as in “The Starsmith”, where one travels across space and relearns how to craft metals.

7. Etc.

Not all science fiction stories have a strong economic tie, such as the Star Wars Episode IV: A New Beginning remains a retelling of the Hero’s Journey or the 1902 Journey to the Moon.  But there is enough stories that have an economic tie that there may always be a market exchange somewhere in the story. (Even Star Wars had a Cantina Bar where the search is on to hire a pilot!)

I am not alone in my assessment, based on the following article from the World Economic Forum.   So the next time you ride a spaceship, travel through time or battle an alien, you may meet rational parties (at least to themselves) seeking resources, living out your first lesson of “Economics 101”. 

How to not succeed as a Phd Candidate

I am working on my PhD disseration, and thought I would share a few thoughts on what not to do…

1. Do not follow the rules concerning your PhD Candidacy to the letter
   You should read and understand what is required.
2. Do not assume your professor can read your mind
   If you can’t communicate your ideas, no one will understand them
3. Do not communicate with your professor
   They are there to help you succeed
4. Do not write daily
   You may find this the ultimate labor
5. Do not read daily
   This should be a labor of love
6. Do not participate in academic, scholarly forums to engage with others
   Sharing with others helps you understand your own research perspective.
7. Do not forget that there are people who wish to help you succeed
   You have a lot of cheerleaders, not only academically, but with family and friends.  
8. Do not have any hard dates
   A goal without a deadline is but a wish…
9. Do not try to solve all the world’s problems
   My biggest challenge – focus on one point!!

I am sure I will be revising this list over time, but it’s a start!

The Goal of Training: “You Must Be the Weapon Before You Can Use a Weapon”.

I was thinking about how to return to my martial arts training as gyms start opening up, especially about how do I improve both my conditioning and rusted skills. Unlike the Karate Kid, there is no Sensei telling me to “Wax On, or Wax Off”, as I must prepare before I can compete safely. The Karate Kid did not quite comprehend his situation until Sensei forced him to link his conditioning to skill development, but I know a little more than he did.

Frequently, the mind and the body tread divergent paths, unclear as to either the route or the destination. For Daniel, he had to have the techniques demonstrated before his eyes to see his own development. However, not everyone who trains learns, as the following video shows a young soldier struggling to feel secure in the African Savannah (Adumu).

In many ways, the lion killer was a warrior: he assessed, listened, and executed. The young soldier, scared, full of adrenaline, etc., was unable to defend himself, even with a more formidable weapon. In the end, the warrior remained a warrior, a weapon, even when he left the spear behind for the other.

In both videos, the more inexperienced fighter did not grasp what he learned until he was shown the deficiency of his training. So, not only must I prepare my body for training, but I must prepare my mind also. 

The moral of the two stories could be summed up by a quote from Jason Bogden, “You must be the weapon before you can use a weapon”.  Over the course of the Karate Kid, Daniel learns to effectively execute his training, much like the taller warrior was able to do at the moment of the lion attack. And frankly, that is good advice for anyone getting ready to face not only other fighters but life itself.

Thoughts on Coaching A Novice High School Heavyweight Wrestler

I came across a few notes I made when I was a volunteer wrestling coach at  Mandeville High School.  It was a very rewarding experience, but I am sharing these as I thought there were some useful nuggets regarding training in general.

 

Who is likely to be a heavyweight wrestler in high school:

  • An athletic football player – tends to have already played sports and can understand coaching
  • A boy who has just grown into his body, so he will be very awkward when he has gained two inches and 25 pounds. I think of them as the big puppy as they do not necessarily understand their new growth.  
  • The kid who grew up fast, so he experienced a big advantage when he was younger. So while he learned how to use the body, his fight style may be influenced by subliminal messages received throughout his younger days about “not beating up on little kids or bullying” – creating a “gentle giant.”
  • The kid who played no sports nor does he understand the rigors of wrestling or even the challenges of moving his body. He may want to wrestle because of TV fighting (MMA) or his friends doing some other martial arts.

Techniques to Teach:

Standing:

  • What not to teach: Do not immediately teach a single or double leg (Stay with Blast Doubles)- most big wrestlers will have problems coming up off the ground, especially if they let go of a leg and plant an arm on the ground. They may get discouraged and will be less willing to learn the technique until they have some success with fighting off the bottom.
  • What to teach: teach hip toss, over-under positions, bear hugs, or even old school blast doubles from a collar grip, Russians, etc. 
  • The focus is on movement and angles, as if heavyweights don’t move, they are subject to certain setups from more experienced wrestlers.
  • A heavyweight wrestler should not stand in the same spot for more than 3 seconds, and if this is not broken earlier, it’s hard to “unteach” later. (I would teach hip toss after they mastered other positions.)

Referee’s Position:

  • Always emphasized teaching confidence in the bottom before teaching any top techniques. A bigger kid will struggle to get up, so the fear of being out of position should be addressed first. As beginner top wrestlers will tend to push more weight onto the hands of the bottom wrestler, this makes “fat man rolls”, sit-outs, somewhat easier to execute.
  • Top position – remember to focus on pushing through, and not over the bottom position. While this sounds easy, the bigger frame can occasionally lead to wrestlers getting out of position easier.  

Escaping from pins:

  • Generally, larger heavyweights are less flexible, so may give up a pin that a smaller, nimbler wrestler may not. As such, they may need more reminders regarding pin escapes as they have the potential for giving up a fall if they are out of position or fatigued.
  • The focus should be a progression on pins here and then incorporated with escapes to reinforce both positions. Stress pin escape drills that last 20-30 seconds to create a clear feeling of progress and control points.

 

Some Mental Aspects:

  • Do not stress that heavyweight wrestling is boring.  This can create a negative message to your wrestler to not try as hard, or his contribution is not merited.  In many ways, the creation of “boring” heavyweight wrestling is a lack of teaching sound standing techniques, which may result in wrestlers remaining locked in a clinch for most of the round.  
  • Some big guys will rely upon up outmuscling their opponent, which may result in initial victories, but without additional technical development, they may see frustratingly slow progress.  This default towards outmuscling tends to lean itself to a slower match. A better focus would be on footwork, teaching the wrestler that movement will generate more opportunities, especially if they are in better shape than their opponent.
  • The heavyweight wrestler should learn to use his weight to “wear out” his opponent where possible while catching his breath in a match.
  • Big guys can fall into a counter wrestling mindset, as they learn that their size will enable them to counter techniques from other, smaller wrestlers. Avoid this at all costs, as they will turn into wrestlers who will only be able to beat opponents who make mistakes. They will learn to be less aggressive and will actually move less, as they wait for the other person to screw up.

A Special Note on Football Players

If they play football, wrestling should teach:

  • Beat the man in front of you.
  • Leverage and footwork can outperform weight only.
  • They will likely quit wrestling to focus on football if they feel this wresting is too hard, or if they completed a football season and want a break. The problem is this these players may lose the gross motor skills and mental disciple that wrestling will afford them, both in high school and beyond. And their opponents are not taking training breaks.

Techniques for incorporating football players into the middle of a wrestling season:

  • Start them on the stand-ups and bottom first. Once they are conformable in not getting pinned, then start with standing and turnovers. This is because the other kids will already have had the benefit of two months of training, so you have to get them where they feel they will see progress fast, which means “you are not being pinned!” If they know they can escape, they are more comfortable learning how to wrestle.
  • Also, many will quit if they get repeatedly pinned after a few days of practice, so one has to learn to manage expectations.   Football is not wrestling: one is a team sport, the other, an individual sport on a team.
  • Several will see powerlifting as getting them stronger. It should be stressed they can still do both.  Oh, if I had the recovery time of my 18-year-old self!!

What To Carry In a Laptop Bag?

After traveling for work (i.e., with a laptop) for a long time, I have settled on what I carry in my laptop bag.  This is my standard packing for all trips, assuming that overnight trips will have personal items in a separate bag.

The broad categories: Power, Audio, Other

Power items (All the charger cables are in a separate GREEN bag)

  • Power chord for laptop    
  • Charger cable for personal phone 
  • charger cable for iPad   
  • charger cable for iPhone 
  • backup portable charger 
  • small multiple outlet adaptor
  • power converter (if traveling overseas)

Audio  (All these cables are in a separate orange bag)

  • Headphones with mike/boom and 3.5 audio jack (Don’t want Bluetooth devices to die or worry about them not being charged)
  • Converter lightening to 3.5 jack (for calls on iPhone) 
  • USB-C 3.5 jack (for Teams meetings on iPad)

Other computer supplies (in a red bag)

  • a USB/flash drive
  • Mouse 
  • USB hub
  • Generally have a few AA/AAA batteries

Knowledge creation (sometimes you need to write something down!)

  • Bag with pencils/pen/highlighter  (in a blue bag)
  • Notebook   (I use the TUL system)

Personal Items

  • Tissue packets
  • Aspirin 
  • Eyeglass cleaner/eyeglass repair kit
  • Business cards

I am curious to learn what others.  Seems like everyone has their own list of “must-have” items!

 

2020 The Asterisk Year

We tend to think in nice round numbers, such as fives, tens, hundreds.  Despite being a nice round number, 2020 will always be the year with the asterisk.

Researchers will seek to account for the social, economic, and political events of the year by assuming 2020 can be “normalized”.   This is too simple a concept.  If the economy can be represented as a factory that can be stopped and started, then concerns over 2020’s prospects are unfounded.  However, this ignores the many activities that require multiple years to complete, such as capital programs, public services, or other planning and permitting activities.  The challenge will be to see how activities with longer horizons perform during 2020.  It may be many years to get to the new “normal”.

What is "Smart Transportation"

In talking about automation, emerging technologies, telecommunications, Internet of Things, we are witnessing the evolution of “Smart Transportation”.  And in many ways, they are correct, but for something to be smart, the implications that the current system is “dumb”.  I don’t think “Smart” describes the complexity of transportation.

Transportation began with a man/woman carrying something from Point A to Point B.  Seeing everyone in the tribe carrying their own materials, someone says “We could carry more if we lashed the object to a pole”.  Together, they can now effectively carry more.  The concept of efficiency, per-unit costs, time, etc., became more manageable as people understood transportation allowed for the construction of structures, the movement of food products, minerals, and ideas.

From a technology perspective, we harnessed the elements:  wind drove our boats, fire forged the metals that become bolt, nails, airplanes.  Over time, we learned to understand risks creating commercial laws/traditions that supported the movement of goods and people.  Eventually, humans learned to use boats, animals, sleds, wheels, air, internal combustion engines, etc., each innovation requiring new technological knowledge to be gained and shared. (The history of the wheel!)

In that perspective, in the year 2525, some critics may talk about how simple “our smart technology” will appear.  In their mind, today’s “smart innovations” will be the future’s “dumb” system that needs improvement.

 

Data as a Model – Football Yardage

Data is an abstraction or a physical activity. When describing data we are measuring one element that may actually have multiple variables that influence its outcome.

On Monday, the LSU Tigers will play the Clemson Tigers for the College Football National Championship. Before, during and after the game, reporters, fans, and announcers will compare many metrics. They will discuss turnovers, first downs, penalties, etc. but the most common statistic (beyond the score) will be offensive yards. Offensive yardage represents many things: the quality of the offensive line (or its lack of execution), each coach’s play-calling, and the quality of the quarterback/receivers play. For example, Joe Burrow’s highlight against Georgia represents a 71 yard pass and that is all. The duration of the play, etc., are compressed into one small data point.

1st & 10 at LSU 20

https://www.espn.com/college-football/playbyplay?gameId=401132981

(3:57 – 3rd) Joe Burrow pass complete to Justin Jefferson for 71 yds to the Geo 9 for a 1ST down

So, when you are watching the game, remember the announcers often describe an action by a single variable, one which is influenced by many things. And for some items, “data” fails to describe the variables that create these memorable moments.

GEAUX TIGERS!!

Eating Chocolates and Performance Metrics

We have all seen or heard this quote from Peter Drucker.

https://www.stonevp.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/01/measure-control.png

The focus on performance is a byproduct of a data rich world.  Deploying “the internet of everything”, provides the ability to improve system performance at a greater degree of granularity  if we all can agree upon the desired outcome.

A fan of slapstick/physical comedy, I always enjoyed this skit. Lucille and Vivian are unable to keep up with their chocolate wrapping assignment.  They eventually “hide the evidence” that the system is failing, as their confidence turns to panic. (The woman manager actually created a perverse incentive, i.e., no unwrapped chocolates. To avoid being fired, they actually do a worse job than being truthful about their work, or the manager observing to see if they were preforming as expected.)

The manager saw the chocolates were gone. She was delighted, but did not understand the system’s real performance. One could argue that her measurement tools were weak, but her eyesight was sufficient to allow her to believe that no other testing was necessary, the objective was met, no unwrapped chocolates in the other room. Lucille and Vivian do not confront the manager. Their mouths are full of chocolates, thus agreeing to be overworked yet again.


So, when examining ways to manage performance measurements, industrial processing does a good job of discussing flow charts, etc., but it may not necessarily capture the ingenuity of the work bench! And this is where the second Drucker quote serves as a useful counterpoint.

Lessons In Mentorship From Peter Drucker - Credera

But there may be a better quote… “just remember  performance measures are like a box of chocolates.”

Forrest Gump Quotes About Running. QuotesGram