Monthly Archives: June 2016

Burning Man in Pictures XXVII: Spirituality and Truth

In our last post, our intrepid heroes had been exploring their inner 8-year-old amongst the dinosaurs and stars. Today, they go on a more spiritual quest.

Their first indication that this quest would be a more spiritual one was this scene that they came across:

A cross-cultural three-dimensional religious experience?
A cross-cultural three-dimensional religious experience?

We then stumbled across what purported to be the truth:

But what is inside?
But what is inside?

But what was inside?:

Oh!  It's me!  I'm the truth?  Selfies are the truth?
Oh! It’s me! I’m the truth? Selfies are the truth?

Me? I’m the truth? Selfies? The sky? Tell me! Wait…Uh oh…:

Uh oh...
Uh oh…



AUGH! [incoherent noises]:

AUGH!  [incoherent noises]
AUGH! [incoherent noises]

Our monstering[1] finished for the day, we headed towards our original goal, the Burning Man Temple. It’s a special place, for people to express their grief, to help them come to terms with things, a deeply personal place for each person. In the words of one of the builders:

“I went down and talked to [a large computer company] and they call their place a campus. They have a barber shop, you can get a haircut. There were three different restaurants, at their campus. I forget how many people are there, 2,000, 3,000 people. If you feed that information into a computer, for 2,000 people, at least three of them are going to have lost a family member. And they don’t have any place in their campus to address [that] and they want to profess that they’re building a family yet they don’t have a place to address the loss of a family member.”

“It’s like, when Burning Man built up that population, we all of the sudden needed that. It was just an obvious absence. There was a void that no one really noticed. They got the porta potties, they’ve got the police station, they’ve got the medical and they’ve got the Man. They just didn’t have a place for grief. And the Man kind of did grief for a while, but it was a mixture of so much celebration that it was hard to really have a quiet place.”

It’s another one of those places where it feels wrong to take pictures inside, so I only have a few pictures, all of the outside, from a distance. Here, you can see S on her way towards the back of the temple:

Heading towards a place of spiritual contemplation.
Heading towards a place of spiritual contemplation.

The 2015 temple[2], ‘The Temple of Promise‘, to us felt like a welcoming entrance, squeezing out the emotions you wanted to express, and almost rebirthing you into a treed garden. Here is the temple:

The Temple.
The Temple.

The imposing yet welcoming entrance, leading through the tighter and tighter squeeze of all of the memorials:

The Temple Entrance.
The Temple Entrance.

Until you emerge into the peaceful garden (on the left):

The Temple garden to the left, after you exit.
The Temple garden to the left, after you exit.

The temple is always[3] so full of emotions, people grieving, memorials, it’s difficult to put words to it. All I can say is that each time I have gone, I have experienced something. A catharsis for sure, but also something else difficult to quantify, or even qualify.

Next time, our intrepid heroes experience a type of comically large quotidian object, along with a poignant procession. Stay tuned!

[1]And photobombing.

[2]Interestingly, googling ‘2015 temple‘ (at least for me) returns pictures of the temple, and a bunch of irrelevant (to me) text results.

[3]Well, both times we’ve been there.

How do You Measure Inflation?

Inflation is supposed to be one, measurable number. There’s a number that’s quoted in all the newspapers, and is used all over the place, to help determine how well the economy is doing, to index pensions, to negotiate union contracts, etc, etc…

This is generally known as the ‘CPI’, or ‘Consumer Price Index’. I’ve reproduced the numbers for Canada from Statcan[1] below:

Consumer Price Index, historical summary
(1996 to 2015)   	All-items 	Change from previous year
  	2002=100 	%
1996 	88.9 	1.5
1997 	90.4 	1.7
1998 	91.3 	1.0
1999 	92.9 	1.8
2000 	95.4 	2.7
2001 	97.8 	2.5
2002 	100.0 	2.2
2003 	102.8 	2.8
2004 	104.7 	1.8
2005 	107.0 	2.2
2006 	109.1 	2.0
2007 	111.5 	2.2
2008 	114.1 	2.3
2009 	114.4 	0.3
2010 	116.5 	1.8
2011 	119.9 	2.9
2012 	121.7 	1.5
2013 	122.8 	0.9
2014 	125.2 	2.0
2015 	126.6 	1.1

These numbers should dovetail well with what you read in the news. They even nicely break the CPI down by type of item:

Consumer Price Index, by province (monthly)
(Canada)   May 2015 April 2016 	May 2016 April 2016 to May 2016 May 2015 to May 2016
  	2002=100 	% change
All-items 		126.9 	128.3 	128.8 	0.4 	1.5
Food 			140.8 	143.8 	143.3 	-0.3 	1.8
Shelter 		133.2 	134.9 	135.1 	0.1 	1.4
Household op & furn. 	119.7 	121.6 	122.1 	0.4 	2.0
Clothing and footwear 	95.0 	96.0 	96.0 	0.0 	1.1
Transportation 		128.0 	127.8 	129.4 	1.3 	1.1
Health and pers. care 	120.7 	122.2 	122.3 	0.1 	1.3
Rec, ed, & reading 	109.9 	110.3 	111.7 	1.3 	1.6
Alc. & tobacco products 151.9 	156.5 	156.8 	0.2 	3.2
Special aggregates
All items excl. food 	124.2 	125.3 	126.1 	0.6 	1.5
All items excl. energy 	124.8 	126.9 	127.2 	0.2 	1.9
Energy 			152.4 	143.4 	146.9 	2.4 	-3.6
Source: Statistics Canada, CANSIM, table 326-0020 and Catalogue nos. 62-001-X and 62-010-X.
Last modified: 2016-06-17.

But many peoples’ experience of inflation can be very different.

I’ll use an example near and dear to my heart:

Today, I had the

Vegetable Chow Mein from my favourite food truck: Wokking On Wheels!
Vegetable Chow Mein from my favourite food truck: Wokking On Wheels!

I first visited the Wokking on Wheels food truck sometime during the fall of 1996, when I was working on Calculus with J (Thanks, J!). At that time, they had five daily specials which, if I recall correctly, they were selling for $3.75. These included the special Thursday special, ‘Singapore Fried noodles’, which you could persuade them to add red sweet sauce to. Delicious!

Anyway, the Vegetable Chow Mein was the least expensive thing on their menu today, at $7.

So, 20 years later, how has inflation fared? By the CPI deflator above, you would expect a $3.75 item in 1996 to cost $3.75*128.8/88.9 = $5.43, about $1.50 less than the actual.

Even if you use the ‘food’ number above, you get: $3.75*143.3/88.9 = $6.04, or about $1 less than the actual.

There are a number of reasons for this (which are beyond the scope), but it’s enough for now to note that there are reasons that people have a different feeling of inflation than what is ‘official’.

[1]The numbers for Ontario seem to be about the same to me.

Mastery and Starting Anew

Earlier, I had written about the new flows and new structures which confront you whenever you change jobs or organizations.

Today, I was reading an article about feelings of ‘mastery’ (and actual ‘mastery’), and how they vanish when you change careers.[1]

Interestingly, it ended up becoming a story about transferable skills, and how you develop blind spots as you become entrenched in your 10-year or 20-year (or more) career.

For me, I discovered that I had learned how to look at a software project, see the flow, find the risks, and then work to route around and/or mitigate them. Perhaps more relevantly, I found this was an uncommon skill. Interestingly, being new and not knowing the project in as much detail probably helps me more easily see the bigger picture.

I haven’t noticed any new blind spots, but I’ll continue to watch. (I also try to ferret them out whenever I see them in myself, but I have no idea how well I do at that.)

In the article, the author says:

In radio, information is not your goal. Someone can talk and talk and talk, but unless they talk in the right way the tape is useless to you. If they are distracted, or overly theatrical, it won’t work. (That was the problem with the first oil guy we interviewed: he was always putting on a show.) The aim is to get them to relive all the emotions they felt at the time, which will translate in their voice. This can be achieved only if you are patient and open, and take the time to establish a real connection.

about how she learned to give people space in an interview, to help them stop ‘putting on a show’ and actually express their inner emotions.

For me, this quote best captures why I think changing things up can be such a powerful tool:

Then there’s the larger matter of how you practice. In “So Good They Can’t Ignore You,” author Cal Newport says that what makes ridiculously successful people so successful is they’re experts at practicing — they can push themselves to the exact limit of their skillset and thus expand their abilities day after day. If you’re not expanding yourself in such a fashion — called deliberate practice in the org psych lit — you’ll never be ridiculously successful.

[1]For those who have not heard of the ‘10,000 hour rule’, it’s from Malcom Gladwell’s book ‘Outliers’. There are also some who dispute the magnitude of the importance of the rule.


In my some recent posts, I’ve talked a little bit about the implications of the ‘Brexit’ vote, an what I thought the actual outcome would be (a re-negotiation of the EU-UK treaty/treaties).

It turns out that some other people have similar opinions:

Almost alone in continental Europe, Merkel tried to slow the rush to get Britain out of the EU door. Europe’s most powerful leader made clear she would not press Cameron after he indicated Britain would not seek formal exit negotiations until October at least.

“Quite honestly, it should not take ages, that is true, but I would not fight now for a short time frame,” Merkel told a news conference.

“The negotiations must take place in a businesslike, good climate,” she said. “Britain will remain a close partner, with which we are linked economically.”

Others say that Brexit is a warning, but not a catastrophe:

Brexit is a Bear Stearns moment, not a Lehman moment. That’s not to diminish what’s happening (markets felt like death in March, 2008), but this isn’t the event to make you run for the hills. Why not? Because it doesn’t directly crater the global currency system. It’s not too big of a shock for the central banks to control. It’s not a Humpty Dumpty event, where all the Fed’s horses and all the Fed’s men can’t glue the eggshell back together. But it is an event that forces investors to wake up and prepare their portfolios for the very real systemic risks ahead.

(For those of you who don’t know who Bear Stearns and Lehman Brothers are, they were the two largest investment banks which fell because of Mortgage-Backed Securities during the 2007-08+ financial crisis.

Finally, for the most cogent response to this crisis, we turn to Chuck Tingle, and his most recent novel on just this subject:

Pounded By The Pound: Turned Gay By The Socioeconomic Implications Of Britain Leaving The European Union Kindle Edition[1]

[1]If you’re not sufficiently warned by the title of that novel, I don’t know what to tell you.

BrVenn Diagrams:

There has been a considerable amount of discussion about the ‘UK European Membership Referendum‘ which happened this week[1].

I currently remain optimistic, and not too concerned, but I was struggling to put words together to explain why, until I saw this diagram, which dovetailed with many of my thoughts:

A Venn Diagram showing many of the treaties binding European nations together.
A Venn Diagram showing many of the treaties binding European nations together.

To put it bluntly, the UK is already quite entangled with the other nations of the EU, economically, geographically, and by treaty. This referendum result may end in something further away from a completely united Europe, but there are already a number of nations which are already at arms length from the EU. (The UK still had its own currency, for example.)

Hopefully they’ll just use this vote as a negotiating tactic to get more of what is good for the people of the United Kingdom (although they’ll probably use it to get more of what is good for the people in power).

Now that David Cameron has resigned, I feel like they need some leadership which can take this immense amount of frustration which has just been expressed[2], and channel it into positive change. Looking back at my knowledge of current and recent UK political history, I don’t know who that would be (or whether there has been such a person in recent memory).

But I remain hopeful that people will step up, and the sensible party will bring people together.

[1]Here, and here, I’ve said some words on the topic, for example.

[2]Not that it hadn’t been being expressed before, it’s just that those in power were listening even less than usual.

Bremain and Brexit

Well, that was an interesting 24 hours. There has been a considerable amount of coverage, from the list of those who have already lost the most from the decision (‘Billionaires and the EU'[1]), to a very serious note from the Beaverton about the irony of a colonial power voting to leave a federation.

There was also some interesting articles about people who seemingly didn’t understand what they were voting for:

Not really understanding what the EU was:

Not really understanding that voting has an effect:

Some might say that this is essentially the purpose of democracy. That human beings are not going to pay attention and put themselves on the line to solve large problems until it becomes obvious that there is a problem disrupting their day to day life. What democracy offers them is an outlet for their frustration without resorting to violence. They may not always understand what they are voting for (why ‘Hope’ and ‘Change’ as simple messages are so effective), but they can tell when something is wrong[3].

As far as voting not having an effect, this could simply be because in a modern regulatory-captured democracy, it very often does not have any effect. Engaging with the system on a more personal and regular basis tends to have much more of an effect (especially if you have a few million dollars to throw around)[4]. It’s like the voter has been hitting the ‘something’s wrong’ button for years to no effect, so they hit it harder and harder, then finally something gives and they’re surprised.

Note that the Washington Post is a newspaper of the establishment, and another reading of the above is that the establishment is trying to prepare people for some kind of softening or repudiation of the referendum results by trying to convince them that they didn’t really mean it. (Most people will have conflicting emotions to some extent about a topic as large as this one, so they can probably identify with ‘I’m not sure exactly why I voted this way’ to a certain extent.)

There’s also some interesting in-depth analysis from the Guardian (I love the Guardian).

They mention that the % of residents with higher education was the best indicator that a riding would vote to remain, suggesting there was frustration and demagoguery at play here. Lower income, higher median age, and higher % born in the UK were all indicators of ‘Exit’, but that might be an effect/correlation with education levels.

(The most surprising to me was the existence of an official or semi-official ‘social grading system‘, grading people:

The classifications are based on the occupation of the head of the household.[1]
Grade 	Social class 		Chief income earner's occupation
A 	upper middle class 	Higher managerial, administrative or professional
B 	middle class 		Intermediate managerial, administrative or professional
C1 	lower middle class 	Supervisory or clerical and junior managerial, administrative or professional
C2 	skilled working class 	Skilled manual workers
D 	working class 		Semi-skilled and unskilled manual workers
E 	non working 		Casual or lowest grade workers, pensioners, and others who depend on the welfare state for their income

I had thought that ‘1984’ was making things up. This is a little too close for comfort. (Note that ‘1984’ was published in 1949, and the above system has been around ‘since the ’60’s’.)

Looking at the Canadian version, it feels less stark, but maybe that’s just because it has all of the job sub-categories hanging off the just-as-classist skeleton.

There’s an interesting commentary from Larry Summers: “Fortunately authorities do not seem overly fussed with moral hazard at a time when the preoccupation needs to be maintaining liquidity and orderly markets.”

(Before you read the above, you should read his bio. I’ll leave it up to you to decide what you think.)

But probably the most interesting analysis for me came from The New Yorker, talking about why the ‘Remain’ campaign lost the vote, concluding that fearmongering and an out-of-touch Conservative Prime Minister were what lost the campaign.

(There’s a lot of other good stuff in that article that you should read and digest, so we can talk about it below!)

[1]Note that they argue that the EU lost the most because the EU stock markets lost more than the FTSE (the most important London stock index). However, even though the FTSE only lost about 3%, the British Pound lost about 9%, bringing the FTSE in USD down about 10% on the day[2]. Note that the Euro also lost about 5% vs. the USD on the day, so the FTSE was about on par with the DAX (German stock index) on the day, worse than most of the rest, but faring better than Italy, Spain, and Greece.

[2]Amounts may not add/multiply due to different day ends, but you get the idea.

[3]Human decision making processes are fascinating. It would be interesting to see how much the voting changed throughout the day, as people are more or less sated from lunch, and have more or less decision-making neurochemicals remaining.

[4]In Canadian federal elections, this ‘votes not counting’ manifests itself as voters in downtown urban centers having no say in how many Conservative MPs are elected, which for many is the main purpose of voting. The converse could be true in Calgary, for example.

Should They Stay or Should They Go?

11:37EST: 12.45M-11.71M, markets have been reacting significantly for a while
11:21EST: 11M-10.4M, ITV says 85% chance of Exit
11:14EST: Cable down from 1.50 to 1.36, almost 10%
11:00EST: 9.13 Exit-8.67 Remain.
10:32 Cable (GBP/USD) is down 6%, the largest single day drop ever.

As I write this, ‘Leave’ has just taken the lead (~6.2M-~5.9M), and the odds of ‘Brexit'[1] have just hit 75%:

Update 10:27PM: And another city that was supposed to be solidly in the Remain camp, Sheffield, has just turned to Leave:
LEAVE: 136,018
REMAIN: 130,735
* * *
Update 10:17 PM: ITV reporting that Leave probability odds are now 75% ITV NEWS RESULTS ANALYSIS: 75% PROBABILITY OF LEAVE TO WINWhile Ladbrokes once again has Leave favorite at 4/6 with Remain 11/10

Earlier in the evening, less than an hour ago, they were statistically tied at about 3M votes each.

So, what does this really mean?

Let’s take a step back and hear what Sir Humphrey Appleby has to say about why Britain joined the EU in the first place:

Video Link.

The relevant transcript:

Sir Humphrey Appleby: “Minister, Britain has had the same foreign policy objective for at least the last 500 years: to create a disunited Europe. In that cause we have fought with the Dutch against the Spanish[2], with the Germans against the French, with the French and Italians against the Germans, and with the French against the Germans and Italians. Divide and rule, you see. Why should we change now when it’s worked so well?”

James Hacker: “That’s all ancient history, surely.”

Sir Humphrey Appleby: “Yes, and current policy. We had to break the whole thing [the EEC] up, so we had to get inside. We tried to break it up from the outside, but that wouldn’t work. Now that we’re inside we can make a complete pig’s breakfast of the whole thing: set the Germans against the French, the French against the Italians, the Italians against the Dutch. The Foreign Office is terribly pleased, it’s just like old times.”

So, the cynical viewpoint would ask whether the British Foreign Office has decided that they’ve done all they can to promote a disunited Europe from within.

Other viewpoints include the idea that the people of the UK truly want to leave, or are being convinced to leave by various demagogues.

10:32 Cable (GBP/USD) is down 6%, the largest single day drop ever.

I don’t have a strong handle on what a ‘Brexit’ will actually do. Here’s an article talking about the worst things that are likely to happen. Basically, the UK will go back to being a closely related country from one with totally open borders, unified standards, etc…

I suspect the momentum would keep it going, along with the large number of expats in each direction (on the order of a few million in each direction). Proximity would keep Britain as a major trading partner with the EU, economics would keep regulations reasonably close, etc…

A larger issue would probably be the threat of Scotland leaving Britain to join the EU.

There are probably also questions of what a ‘Yes’ vote actually means. It might just mean a slight separation between Britain and the EU (which would incidentally meet the goals of the cynical Foreign Office above).

It’s also important to remember that London remains an incredibly important financial capital, and geographically very close, so the ties will still be there regardless.

11:00EST: 9.13 Exit-8.67 Remain.

11:14EST: Cable down from 1.50 to 1.36, almost 10%

[1]What a terrible name. It doesn’t even sound like a good breakfast cereal, more like one of those that tastes uninteresting and has a terrible texture.

[2]Note that those are but three examples out of a large set of Anglo-Spanish wars.

[3]ibid Anglo-French wars. Note that most of these did not in fact include Germany as an official co-belligerent, until revolutionary/Napoleonic times. (Note that was before the German (Prussian) unification of 1871.)

The Opposite of a Puzzle

What is the opposite of a clown car? S asked and answered this question earlier today, but before we get to that, a commentary about what an opposite is and isn’t from Roy Greenhilt:

“Two things need to be almost the same except for one or two factors to be opposites.” [Cartoon violence and argument]

So, getting back to our initial question, we need to start with a description about what a clown car is:

“A car from which many clowns emerge.”

So you could say something like:

“A car from which few (or no) clowns emerge.”

Or perhaps a ‘Clown Truck’:

“A truck from which many clowns emerge.”

Or the ‘Anti-Clown Car’:

“A car which absorbs clowns with no end.”

(Although any clown car would probably have to gorge clowns anyways before it could disgorge them.[1])

But my favourite is S’s:

“A clown from which many cars emerge.”

We tried oppositing other words as we were talking, but none of them really caught on. The opposite of a fire truck was done in Fahrenheit 451[2], the opposite of a cat is clearly a dog, and what is the opposite of a duck?[3]

Or perhaps this one:

“What is the opposite of a puzzle?”

[1]Or merge them before they could emerge.

[2]I always found this disturbing.

[3]Not ‘What is the difference between a duck?’ The answer to that is well known.

Burning Man in Pictures XXVI: Stars and Dinosaurs, the Dreams of the Eight-Year-Old in All of Us

In our last episode, our adventurers took a brief timeout. They then started back towards centre camp, as the Sun was baking in a most merciless way.

On the way, our intrepid heroine observed something, and went to investigate:

Blackrock Observatory!  The best kind of tory!
Blackrock Observatory! The best kind of tory!

Our intrepid heroine performs an observation:

Our intrepid heroine performs an observation.
Our intrepid heroine performs an observation.

Inside one of the domes, she found this exciting schedule of all the organized events happening at the observatory!:

Sunrise, yoga, cosmic rays, math, and futurism!  What an exciting slate of events!
Sunrise, yoga, cosmic rays, math, and futurism! What an exciting slate of events!

Another dome had a sign in front talking about what was currently being observed:

We like this one, because it is close to us.
We like this one, because it is close to us.

Our heroine then noticed a possibly familiar shape in the distance…:

A familiar shape in the distance!
A familiar shape in the distance!

…And she went to investigate:

Is that who I think it is?  Let's go investigate!
Is that who I think it is? Let’s go investigate!

And it was! It was her favourite assemblable wooden dinosaur from childhood, writ large!:

Your favourite assemblable wooden dinosaur, writ large!
Your favourite assemblable wooden dinosaur, writ large!

It had obtained a number of decorations along the way, some for stegosauruses who like ice cream:

Stegosauruses *love* ice cream.
Stegosauruses *love* ice cream.

Some offering career advice:

Career advice from the dino decorators.
Career advice from the dino decorators.

Some with different ideas for the power structures of civilization:

A novel power structure for a civilization near you!
A novel power structure for a civilization near you!

But mostly, she spent some time communing until it was time to go:

Our heroine, sharing a moment.
Our heroine, sharing a moment.

Next time, we find the truth, and visit the Temple.

Burning Man in Pictures XXV: A Short Timeout, and Some Worholesque Oddities

In our last post, we found some strange metal skeletons, and visited our most favourite oasis. Today, we follow our adventurers as they continue their journey back from beyond the edge of the world, relaxed and refreshed.

Bicycling along, our adventures came across a curious installation, like part of a room had been transplanted onto playa. S stops to take a look:

Our intrepid heroine stops and ponders.
Our intrepid heroine stops and ponders.

It seemed to be suggesting they take a time out…:

Think about it.
Think about it.

…but as they had just come from a nap and ponder at their favourite oasis, they decided to take a more active look:

S finds something.  (Also, that chalked sign might have been useful for Mirror Blaze, although probably not (more on that later!))
S finds something. (Also, that chalked sign might have been useful for Mirror Blaze, although probably not (more on that later!))

Our heroes had found a book! A ‘Colouring Book of Unfortunate Situations’!:

A colouring book of unfortunate situations.  Sounds interesting!
A colouring book of unfortunate situations. Sounds interesting!

What was inside?:

They seem to understand us.
They seem to understand us.

S pondered the pictures with the utmost of seriousness:

S peruses the book with the utmost seriousness.
S peruses the book with the utmost seriousness.

Stegosaurs? They don’t seem unfortunate! They’re my favourite dinosaur! (Possibly my favourite animal.) But the destruction in the background perhaps explains what the authors are attempting to convey:

Stegosaurs!  (And Bojack Horseman?)
Stegosaurs! (And Bojack Horseman?)

Finishing their perusal of the book (and eschewing the use of the hourglass), they decided to peruse some of the comments left by other visitors:

Some relevant (and poignant) commentary from some of the participants.
Some relevant (and poignant) commentary from some of the participants.

(I had meant to translate the Chinese characters there. I recognize ‘Tien’ (and I think ‘food’), but I’m unable to read the rest of it, although I did find what looks like a cool on-line dictionary.)

Moving on, our adventurers came upon this…object… Having no idea what it was, they used it for its sundial properties, figured out that it was time to drink some water[1], and moved on:

No idea.
No idea.

And then this happened. As the sun was baking, our adventurers did not visit this installation more closely. Perhaps there were more surprises within. But there was no soup for them.

Worhol, or Banksy?
Worhol, or Banksy?

Stay tuned! In our next episode, our plucky adventurers make their inner 8-year-olds the happiest people ever!

[1]”If you’re cranky, drink some water. If you’re thirsty, drink some water. If you think about water, drink some water. If you think about anything, drink some water. Drink some water. Drink some water.” -Paraphrase of Burning Man mantra