Saturday, 4 October 2014

Off to

Hi anyone, 

Just in case there some someone wondering about the end of the developments here. Apart from writing for my company, posts now go to for a while. I might come back to populate this space with different ideas at a later stage.

If you want to see what I've been writing about, feel free to pop by using the link below.

Saturday, 13 September 2014

Apple, potatoes, onions... Ideas.

Last weeks release of Apple's new products and their bold, albeit expected, move into yet another product category got me thinking about the innovation strategies used by these tech giants. Let me say it right from the get-go, I am NOT an Apple product addict. I live in the simple world of mid-tier android products because they suit my needs and my wallet. Few people would accuse me of being a tech-junkie, and those who do are probably thinking of someone else or compensating for some other thing that I make them insecure about. As I do.

Back to the story. Ideation.

Samsung brought out a the Galaxy S5, water and dust proof (yawn), along with a rubber-looking watch which now can partner with the aforementioned phone where in the past it was only linkable with the under-marketed Samsung phablet, the Galaxy Note. They got it a bit wrong did they not? There is no doubt that Samsung is a cool brand and that Android has a solid following. They proceeded to put Samsung in a dust proof phone, a gym watch and a larger phone that almost looks like a phone but is a tablet but is a phone but is a tablet.

Apple comes along and does their thing, releasing what would look like a very similar product set at first glance, but leaving the global audience with a raised eyebrow and murmur of, "Hmmm, that could be cool."
Once more, I feel nothing for either brand but in the spirit of good business I will choose to learn my lessons from Apple's success in this specific case. 

The following are some general good ideas that I think set Apple apart. 

1. They approached wearable tech from the right direction.

Instead of taking an iPhone, shrinking it and slapping an overpriced, pearl-white watch strap on it, they designed a great looking watch and then redesigned the list of features that went along with this all-too-well-known accessory. The Apple watch looks like something that you would wear as a watch-wearer. They had every opportunity to make a hipster-douche-wrist-bangle that many brand faithfuls would purchase, not knowing what it could have been. 

What am I saying? Well, when Samsung launched a watch, it was a watch only Samsung users would wear. Users with a history of Samsung and Android purchases who wanted more Samsung-swag on their wrists. With Apple, I will not be surprised if there are new users that enter the Apple universe through the door of the Apple watch, simply because it is also a beautiful watch. A very beautiful watch, which boasts a host of other cool features that you will discover while you wear it as... a beautiful watch. 

The lesson? Humility maybe? Hard to imagine, mostly because the whole Apple upper-classity makes it feel like an oxymoron. But yes, the humility characteristic makes ambition intelligent and innovation accessible to wider audience. 

The widget that my business is selling is selling because it is a widget and because of the utility of the widget and the marketing success of my widget brand. If I want to expand into a new category, like shoes, my target market is now a person who greatly appreciates the utility offered by shoes. They already have synapses in their brains for this utility. I would have to completely re-educate them if I asked them to get used the strap that I put on my widget, claiming that now you can wear my widget on your feet. Would it not be better to forget about the success of my widget in its original category and rather consider that my new target market needs a great new shoe, made by the company who makes that other great widget. And oh look, here are some overlapping features!

2. ApplePay is a seed that will bear much fruit

This is an absolutely brilliant move. I feel like the consumer will only realise what hit them when mobile financial services, not just payments, start forcing the traditional banking system to adapt or die. 

The parallel between data usage, cash spending and phone credit is way too strong, which makes it obvious why mobile payments, e-wallets and credit-via-phone purchases have been introduced from all angles. Apple took it to the level of economic agglomeration with the big names in global payments (AmEx, Visa, etc.) and have now set the scene for a total revolution. 

ApplePay sits under the guise of a clever feature to the layman, but once the infrastructure is in place then it will erupt like a dormant volcano and change the landscape of mobile payments. I think there will be other players in the market too when this time comes, but they will most likely be seen as companies that have hitched on the what Apple started. 

So the lesson is here: if we really want to innovate, we look further than one move ahead. Apple may have only put the baby-steps of a global payments infrastructure in place for now, but in years to come they could be announcing AppleBank or AppleCurrency. If you did not know any better better at the moment, you would just call it an app. 

Question to ask yourself, what are the next three of four levels up in your business? How do you make the next change great, and at the same time sow the seeds for what are still only dreams? 

3. Grow the onion to survive, grow the potato to thrive.

Okay this one is going to require a bit of an explanation. 

I hail from Namibia and I have family who are farmers. I grew up on the farm but sadly I now only go and visit once every year or two. A few years ago our family did something unheard of in the region and changed from dealing mostly in sheep and cattle to planting crops. It started out with lucern and then went on to mielies (corn) before we found our calling with onions and potatoes. A potato is a damned tough and expensive vegetable to grow whereas onions are a little easier. 

On my last visit, I asked my cousin which he preferred to have growing on the land. Without much hesitation he said, "Potatoes."

His reason was that an onion will never take the place of a potato on a plate of food, so potatoes will always be easier to sell and more in demand. Onions are very much a complimentary vegetable in most dishes, where potatoes have a way bigger role to play in the food spectrum.

So how the hell does this relate to Apple? 

When Samsung came out with their watch it was heavily marketed as a healthy lifestyle asset. This is great, if the healthy life-style thing appeals to you. To me and many others, this is an onion on the plate. I do not have a problem with it, but I cannot help but get a feeling that for many consumers the feature is as decorative as the onion rings next to my chips and steak. It is nice, but it is it not really a big part of my meal expectations or necessities.

Taking the metaphor deliciously further, I would think that Apple had to come up with the potato. This is where I think ApplePay and the cast iron look came from for the Apple Watch. 

As mentioned before, these two differences set the product aside and draws the interest of a wider audience. The group of people that wear watches and especially the group that makes payments is much larger than the one that subscribes to a fitness lifestyle. The Apple Watch does have the health feature, so it is not like you feel that you are missing out on the onion rings. Apple's true ingenuity here was the inclusivity factor, brought about by careful feature selection. 

Think about it, they could have had main features centered on video and camera. Again though, this would only be a coolness factor and not something that would open the playing field to a product space with a potentially necessary demand. A great wrist camera, sure! But that is a complete want whereas making a payment is a need. Now, we do not all need to have Apple Watches to make payments, but what Apple recognised is that the need to make payments is universal and that they have the opportunity to get in on the action and spearhead the future. 

Question to ask: Are my ideas for innovation onions or potatoes? Look at your current clientele and consider what their life is like. Consider them before you consider your product. Making your widget in ten different sizes might not be as innovative as making it possible for your widget to fit inside a car. The former might be a just be a decorative step with shallow utility but the latter could take your widget to a whole new audience. 

Boston Consulting Group considers Apple the most innovative company in the world for a few years running. Their list is mostly based on popular opinion of other company CEO's. Forbes magazine has more technical criteria and the top position there belongs to SalesForce, another software monster! Truth is that there are many companies that get it right on several occasions, and despite the jest of my article, Samsung is one of them! 

All in all, good questions will lead to good answers. This is the basis of good decisions.

Sunday, 7 September 2014

Effective resource planning: a how-to guide

Setting up the problem

As mentioned in previous posts, I have developed a love for internet radio. It is a quick-fix cure for someone like me when the stimulus craving kicks in, especially when I have an anxious desire to multitask and do something else at the same time. Which happens. 

There is a particular show that I listen to regularly where a caller raised a very interesting point the other day. A young man dialled in and told the host that he is working his way through a college education which is very expensive because it is the best in the region. His field of study was accounting. The host told him that he was wasting his money as he could study accounting at many other universities for a lower fee and that it wouldn't make a difference to the eventual outcome, which is becoming an accountant.

Boom. Does he even know about the can he just opened? We are not just talking about university degrees now. Everything is coming into play. What are you paying for when you purchase a widget? What utility does the prestige price of the widget have and does it have a valid and measurable ROI? What other hidden costs are there in a price that make the widget completely arbitrary and bring the utility into focus?

Breaking down the problem

Okay, let's walk before we run here. Stay with the university degree story. I want to study accounting and I have several options. Out of my options there are several different prestige categories. Assume I am eligible to study at any university of my choice and that I can afford any of them, but want to make sure I still get the most value for the money that I spend. 

I rank my choices in terms of cost to get one list, prestige to get another, and outcome to get a final list. Outcome can again have two sub lists. The first would be the salary that I would get after obtaining the degree and the second would be the opportunity that I would be afforded with my particular degree. This is because some folks would probably sacrifice money for the opportunity to reach another goal.

You can see a system emerging with a very unique mid-section which needs to be taken into account, the ROI of prestige. The input would be the cost of the degree and the output would be the salary and opportunity. What needs to be considered is if paying more for prestige changes the output. 

To decide on this you would have to take a sample of accounting graduates from each university and see whether or not the salaries prove the theory right, and if so, how long until you break even with your initial investment. Would it really be worth it if the difference in median salaries was so small that it took you twenty years to break even? You can become even more clever here and see whether an expensive/prestigious education is more valuable at high school or university level, or whether it is a combination that yields the best outcome. For measuring opportunity it could be slightly tougher as this would be Boolean problem, measured by candidates who reached their goal and who did not, given their different choice of university.

After this a second question would have to be considered which challenges the assumption of eligibility and the candidates themselves. Do more prestigious institutions draw more ambitious candidates, perhaps with tougher entrance requirements? Would the students own hutzpah be the explanation for the higher salary and not the institution? Again you would have to take a sample of top performers at a few prestigious schools and some at less prestigious schools and see if the outcomes show a difference to determine causality. 

At this confusing stage, I personally feel challenged and, if I am honest, a bit duped. As consumers, when we make a purchase decision with the resources we have, how much do we over or under pay for the utility of the widget? More so, do I regularly consider my own value when I make a purchase to determine the value of the widget? Which one counts more or do the two factors energise each other to a logistic-equation-type of saturation point?

A problem of waste

Ultimately, this is probably a matter of waste reduction. A good way to look at waste reduction is to start at the end and then work your way backwards through the pipeline so you can identify your inputs within your parameters. 

What do you want? Pick a salary, a goal, a company you want to work for, a place you want to live, a function you want your widget to perform, a price you want the widget to sell at, etc.

Now when you look at the options you eliminate those that are not able to provide this outcome. Keep moving backwards step by step until you reach your short list of candidates that are able to get you to your predetermined outcome. At this stage the focus shifts towards your resources.

Rank the candidates by cost and rank by effort. In our previous example, we would consider a student with lower ambition/grades to be high on the effort list. Whip out the maths and find the optimal value for minimising cost and effort and you have your winner! Successfully you have eliminated wasting time on effort and money on cost. It goes without saying that if effort is all the same, then least cost wins, vice versa. 

An interesting parallel

Before I conclude, isn't it cool how the word parallel has a pair of parallel lines in it? There's should be a word for when this happens.

Malcolm Gladwell writes in one of his books (I think that it's Outliers?) that Nobel Prize winners are not always the most clever out of their group of peers in terms of IQ measurements, but that they were clever enough for the outcome of a certain Nobel-prize-worthy discovery, given the inputs of hard work and opportunity. Essentially, and rather humorously, a waste here would be extra IQ points, since they weren't necessary for the outcome. At least they don't cost anything!

To answer the question of school's, here is a great article that gives excellent insight into this specific problem. Take note, however, that for the spending of finite resources there is always an opportunity cost or trade off that has to be taken into account for a complete answer to the questions. 

Saturday, 23 August 2014

What to do with your first salary

Why I am writing this post? Well, to be honest, this budget stuff gets me going. My motivation is simply that I really like it. Is that okay? If you really like to bake then maybe you just find yourself hoping to run into a friend who you know will enjoy a conversation about baking. Later on you'll take these new ideas into the kitchen and whip up a muffin batch that could bring the king of Persia to his knees. No one asked you to, but you just wanted to because you love it. Good for you. So that's how I feel about money.

Now that I have received a few salary cheques in my life I can look back and ask, "What if..."

Never do that if you are emotionally unstable. I am not asking this question with tears in my eyes. I am looking back at my education, which has been by experience, and wondering how it would have played out if I had the education before I had the experience.

Back to the story. A lot of money has flowed through my bank account over the years and, even though I consider myself a rather financially savvy individual, I wonder if I really did the best that I could with this particular resource. I'm not talking about being entrepeneurial and that I should have invested it in the next Google, but simply looking after money then the way that I am looking after it now. 

By going through my failures and successes; maybe it'll help you or maybe you're just curious what other people do. Either way, read on and see if you can draw something from these experiences.  

To start, what did I do which was bad?

Well, I bought a car that I couldn't afford.

I needed a car, but I spent the little savings I had on a deposit and the loan I took out exceeded 50% of my annual take home pay! What a dumbass! Tip number one - don't put yourself in the hole straight off the bat. If you need a car, buy a car. But try to do it cash. If you can't do it cash, then take out a for loan less than 30% of annual income and pay the rest cash. If these parameters mean that you can't get the car, then realise that you can't get the car. Don't put yourself under that kind of pressure. Drive a scooter or take the bus, I don't care. But the fact is that if you buy things you can't afford then you are building a house on a very shaky foundation. You will only be one salary cheque away from bankruptcy every month. Don't do it. This isn't necessarily a first salary problem, but it is a mistake I made with mine and only learned later on how bad it was. By the way, to generalise, it doesn't necessarily have to be a car either.

Next up, I had no savings plan.

I did volunteer work, studied music and held odd-jobs for my first two and a half years out of university, and my first career-like job was as a maths teacher at an all-boys school. This is where I got my first real salary. It included a contribution into a retirement fund, but in the beginning I had no amount set aside each month simply for personal savings. Some months I had more and others I had less. I needed savings for many reasons. I needed to have an emergency fund in case the S hit the F. I could have started to put money away into unit trusts (which I now love). I didn't save for holidays, car repairs or anything else. Bad move. Why? Because, inevitably, S is always being flung at F, and it happens. I had to fix things I didn't expect needed fixing. I made plans for holidays but needed to come up with the cash from somewhere. I needed clothes when I realised I was inches away from people handing me a sandwhich when I walked down the street. I fell in love and proposed to the girl of my dreams and then had to magically make wedding money appear! 

Strangely, I found the money... most of the time. Luck? Not really. The real way to look at it is that I lost money to other things that for the life of me I cannot recall. When I realised I needed money for these things, I started to get my financial house in order and take control of money that was being lost. So from there comes tip number two - don't wait for your first flat tyre to make you aware that you need to have a spare at all times.... 

What did I do with my young salary that was good?

Like I mentioned, I'm not a total idiot when it comes to money. I'm a quick learner and soon realised that plans needed to be made. Here be tip number three. Learn. Once I realised debt was way too easy to get in to, I made sure I stayed as far away as possible. I had opened some clothing accounts, thinking it would help me build up a credit record. Once I realised I was buying things with money that I don't have (even at zero percent interest), I made sure to pay what I owe and cancel the accounts. I started to build up savings in a different account that was hard for me to access once funds were put away. This eventually helped me pay for our wedding and honeymoon without having to sell anything on the black market. 

What did I do with my salary that was grey?

I spent it on travel. But not any kind of travel. The girl of my dreams was a good eight hour drive away, and trying to make a long distance relationship work takes more than love. It also takes money. Why do I call it grey? I need to explain this, especially if my now wife reads this posts and wonders why I didn't call it the best thing I ever did with my money. The reason it's grey is simply because a relationship should be a great thing to spend money on but we could have done it better. In the beginning the travel and our time together swallowed so much of our money and we failed to plan completely on how to manage it. Only a few months down the line did we come up with a plan and a budget. The budget was built on how long we could go without seeing each other without going nuts. If we were apart for too long we discovered that our relationship took strain. The key period decided upon was three weeks. Once that was in place we could start planning far ahead and budgeting accordingly. Words of wisdom tip number four - invest in good relationships with your money, but do it wisely. Don't buy love, but take it out to dinner from time to time and let it know you're not reckless. Chicks dig stability.

What would I go back and change if I could?

I wish I had bought a cheaper car. It would have taken a lot of pressure off of the next few years and I would have had much more wiggle room in my wallet and a lot less stress.

I wish had started investing earlier. Few things to me are more exciting than putting money away and watching it grow. Investing in Unit Trusts are incredibly easy. I was stupid enough to try and buy my own shares and speculate with very unstable financial products long before I thought of putting funds in an account for long-term investing. We need a good saving habit almost as much as we need a hate for being in debt. Saving about 10% of your salary every month should not be hard. If it is then you either need a bigger income or you need a better budget. 

At the moment I have three main accounts. I have a extra-budget account, or an emergency fund as it is more commonly known. This is slowly built up to look after the things that I can't fit into our monthly budget. The second account is my bank account in which I only leave enough money every month to fund a well-planned budget. The third an last account is a Unit Trust account where I try and build up money for a house deposit and for our retirement. I wish they would teach these three accounts as a rule when you start to work and earn! It's not fool-proof but it has made my life SO much more manageable! Damn son, I actually think I'll write a post just on these three and why I have decided to live on them and them alone. 

Lastly I wish I wish I had won the lottery. Can't win if you don't play right? Okay that's a joke. I am not advocating stupid tax here. My point is made with sarcasm, and it is this; there are better things than winning the lottery. Not needing to win it. I wish I had a money mindset instead of a poverty one. This was something I identified early on and then took to change immediately. I am no longer money's angry jealous cousin but I feel like money is a good and trustworthy employee, doing what I want it to do.

Am I stinkin' rich? Hells no! I am not a millionaire, but I do think I will be some day. Is it because I am earning bajillions per year? Hells no again! It's because I've watch small amounts grow into bigger amounts, encouraging me to make to smaller amounts bigger so that the bigger amounts can get even bigger! Well, how do you make smaller amounts bigger? For starters, try and pay yourself what you are now paying the bank! One of my first goals was to replace my debts payments with Unit Trust payments. Works wonders I tell you! Don't pay off one debt and then think you can now afford another! 

So getting practical. 

Get the salary. Don't rush into anything. Look at what you earn every month and what you need to get by. Assess whether this salary is matching your living standard. Should you scale down or are you getting by comfortably? Make a budget that comes to less than you earn. Make sure to include medical aid (even if it's just a hospital plan) and car insurance into that budget. Why? Because as much as it sucks, something can happen with in either of those areas that could take to you right down to square one, or God forbid, even lower. Avoid debt. If you already have debt, made it your first goal to get rid of it as soon as you can. Put some money out of reach to fund things that won't fit into the budget (5% or more of your monthly salary, plus whatever extra pops up). Do this until your emergency funds eventually sits at about 3 months worth of expenses. Start replacing the money you would throw at debt to long-term savings. Try and see if you can get this up to about 15-20% of your monthly income, so that eventually what you have put away can replace your incomes in the golden years. Be disciplined and don't touch these funds. If an emergency comes around you'll have your emergency savings. The long-term savings can only be for a house deposit and act as a supplement to your retirement. Don't feel pressured for household insurance if the most expensive thing you own is a waffle machine. Don't pick life insurance if you are young and you don't have any dependants. Don't take out a retirement annuity yet if you aren't sure which country you'll be retiring in (rather put these funds in the third account for now). Don't be a scrooge and forget to have fun within your means. You only live once so make it good, but do it wisely so that you make the goodness last.

Sunday, 17 August 2014

Hindsight + Foresight = Insight

It was my 30th birthday yesterday. I have never been one for big parties, but deciding that it's a milestone, my wife and I organised a poker night for some close friends and ended up having an amazing time. 

I am listening to a second audiobook at the moment, "Start" by Jon Acuff. This is the same author that I had referenced in previous posts. His stuff was recommended to me by a friend. He has an engaging way of communicating, and even though the content is not life-changing, it is thought provoking enough to keep listening. 

His idea in this book is about following your dream... I think. He goes on about finding the thing you really enjoy and discovering that which brings meaning to your life and then how to pursue this life's purpose from beginner to expert level. 

Let me take a step back before I get to him, and get to what I want to talk about. 

I was driving in the car on the day before my birthday. I haven't had any depressing thoughts about being 30 until it dawned on me that I was on the last day of my 20's. I started to think about the last decade and realised that the me that I have got to know as a twenty-something is on the cusp of fading into history. Danie will never be a twenty-something again. That is a weird feeling. 

I was having this thought and was calmed by Jon who was babbling into my earphones that your twenty's are about learning. A time of your life where you would have done your studies and have jumped from one interest to another. You would have had a couple of jobs but you would have a better idea of what you are good at at the end. You have a whole bunch of experiences that you can sift through to find out what your talents are, what makes you happy, what makes you unhappy, what you suck at etc. 

He continued that the next phase of life is the editing phase. This means you that learning has brought you to a point where you know what the handful of things are that you can see yourself doing in life. Your passions. In the editing phase you hone in on these and start applying yourself more intentionally. You become better at the things you want to spend time on and you leave behind the things you have tried and just didn't fit.

This made me not feel so bad as I realised that I had undergone this process and that I'm now at a pretty decent jumping off point for the editing phase. I never wanted to believe that music would only be a hobby and not a profession. At 20 I refused to believe I wasn't going to be a career musician. At 30 I am extremely grateful that I am not a career musician. I have rediscovered an interest in mathematics and I had also realised that, as enjoyable as teaching was, I did not want to make a career out of education.

Thanks Jon. You saved me from not having an answer, or excuse, for myself as I sat thinking about this last day of 20's. 

Later that day I told my mom about this strange feeling, jokingly asking her if there is anything to do on the sunset of your 20's! Much later she told me that a friend of hers just found out that his wife had only 3 months left to live, and how this is so similar, but also has such a sad, sharp contrast to my feeling.

Wow. So terrible how jumping from "what do I do with the last day of my twenties' to "what do I do with the last three months of my life." 

I won't pretend that I know in any way what that it feels like to stare finality straight in the face like that. But with me looking back at my twenties and then having the realisation that life definitely is finite made me feel like I had a clear view for a moment of a person's journey. 

I haven't given it much more thought than that. I will be thinking of my mom's friends often though. Stories like that do something strange to me  and I keep thinking about how no one knows how they must feel, or at least very few do. This won't stop their story from playing out in public, and the group of people that they interact with taking part in their tragedy, whether they want it or not. Some onlookers will be empathetic and others insensitive, while others will just be human. Placeholders of the population, just like they should be. But the degree of suffering must be so great, hurt so much and make them feel so lonely. 

Back to the moment. 

Simply, we need to be the analyst (have hindsight) and the entrepreneur (have foresight) to have clarity in the moment (have insight). This is what I am discovering at work these days. My boss had some figures that the group had all decided were our targets for the financial year. They were great targets and they were very intelligently broken down into the different arms of the sales business where the money was going to come from. 

In the last week I spent some time working backwards from these targets, but I simultaneously played a numbers game where I looked at which metrics needed to change in order for these targets to be reached. I discovered that some drastic changes in the status quo were required. There was great tension between two specific figures. The numbers of transactions per month and the average transaction size. 

The assumption was made that the average transaction size was going to be larger. But how much larger is something that wasn't really addressed. If frequency of transactions increased, then the transaction size was relieved of some of the pressure. 

I shared this with our team and it felt like we were seeing things through new eyes. A new urgency hit our department of what needs to be done to make sure the targets are achieved. 

If we only have hindsight we will never dream. If we only have foresight we will only be dreamers. If we have both then we transform into exactly what the moment needs us to be. We have the wisdom of the past and the vision for the future. 

I think about the past. I hope it has taught me what I needed to learn. I am a natural analyst and I struggle to dream. I have to now start dreaming and then I will be able to edit my life and find more in the next decade than I expect at this moment in time. I hope that if I then find myself in the sad situation of my mothers friends, hopefully years from now, the tragedy will feel defeated by a story of purpose when I look back. It will still be sad and will still hurt. Death is mercilessly awkward and desperately cruel in its finality. I would like to think however, like a curtain drawn back to let some sunlight in, that I wouldn't have regrets in how I have loved and how I have lived. I hope that the warmth of loving relationships and living life with meaning will make that moment one where I don't feel like fate is bullying me, but one where I am standing in a room filled with souvenirs of a good life. 

Friday, 15 August 2014


I read an article about a recording that was just recently released (you can find the link on my twitter feed, @daansteraan) of former US President Bill Clinton talking about Bin Laden. This recording came from  Melbourne, Australia, from conversation between Clinton and Sky News Australia the day before the 9/11 attacks.

"I nearly got him ... And I could have killed him but I would have had to destroy a little town called Kandahar in Afghanistan and killed 300 innocent women and children and then I would have been no better than him. And so I didn't do it."

It would have been extremely inappropriate for this recording to be released just after the attacks and I wonder how much truth there is to the claim that the holder simply "forgot that he had it."

Not that I would blame him if it wasn't true. If it was a decision that was made I don't think it was a particularly bad one at all.

I have a few thoughts today about decisions and their tiered nature. 

A basic decision comes across as having only one degree of consequence. Determinists would probably argue that exactly the opposite is true and every action has an infinite line of consequences. This arguments reaches an interesting stale mate with Quantum Theory when you starting working backwards and get to the point where you cannot tell where an action began (I am referring to not being able to determine the exact position of an electron in an atom).

Getting back to a basic decision, an example would be when I decide whether I want to put up my arm or not. The consequence is that either my arm goes up or my arm stays down. One tier, one consequence, one decision.  

It is, thankfully and and unfortunately, not that simple (it is always unfortunate when something is not more simple, especially for people who like simplicity). The real decision tree is probably uglier than the hariest crows nest we can imagine. The only hair-line I wan't to write about now is the one where a shadow of degrees of good is cast over it. 

Back to the example. My simple decision of raising my hand or not. As for second tier options, there are many we can imagine. One could be that I raised my hand to answer a question in class. Another could be that I did it to switch on a light. It could be to block a punch from an opponent in a boxing match. It could even be to throw a punch at an opponent. Or an animal. Or a woman. Or a child. 

Consider a shadow of degrees of good.   

Clinton had a threshold for bad behaviour which was not shared by his opponent. Bin Laden's threshold of bad behaviour was much lower (higher) than Clintons. Clintons prevented him from killing Bin Laden when he could have. Bin Ladens didn't stop him from doing much worse. Would it have been worth extending Clintons "badness threshold" to protect his assets? His assets being people who do not die from terrorism or terrorist related activity? I also suppose the asset class is very differently defined since we are talking about people. If it was a different asset like drugs maybe? If you had to smoke a joint to ensure your children don't smoke weed then our asset is "sobriety" and our badness threshold would not be with killing but getting stoned. More later. 

Thursday, 14 August 2014

Getting nature to roll a dice

I have a new addiction.

Pod casts.

The last one I listened to was talking about encryption methods. The simple method discussed worked by having a key which would decipher an encrypted message.

An example:

The encrypted message is "BLA".

The key is "2 3 6".

To solve the message you would count 2 letters on from B, 3 letters on from L and 6 letters on from A in the alphabet. This gives you the word "DOG". Pretty cool right?

Now we can start getting fancy. For example instead of an alphabet you could use a QWERTY keyboard or you could assign integer values to words, names or letters to make your key a riddle in itself.

Two things come to mind for me.

Firstly, this is the first practical application of Sterling numbers that I've bumped into. Or am I thinking of the modulus of a number!? I'll look it up!

Secondly, I could spend all day trying to think of ways to make the key interesting! I instantly thought how cool it would be if there was a way in which you could have a seemingly random event decide the key to use for the day.

For instance, all allies could set their watches to the same time. They decide on a random event that occurs each day, but one which they all would be aware of when it happens. If the event happens at 13:22, then the key for the next day could be 1 3 2 2, cycling through the numbers as need be. What could such an event be? A sound? A sight? How about the time at which a shop owner has his first customer with a red shirt? Or maybe even use the closing price of some arbitrary stock on a random stock exchange half way around the world? Maybe they could send an encrypted text message and the key would be the time at which they send it. Geesh! So many options!

There's a card game I like to play where you and your team mate have to have a secret sign to communicate to each other when one of you has four-of-a-kind. This is achieve through a simple method of exchanging cards with the dealer and other players. Once you have four of the same cards you need to let your partner know without letting the other team know. If you can do this successfully without being busted then you win. The other way to win is to bust the opposition team when they are trying to do the same. The typical signs are finger taps and head scratches. These kinds of signs have to be done quickly and subtly to avoid being picked up by your opposition. I always tell my partner beforehand that our sign should be this: trying to bust the other team, accusing them of blinking suspiciously... or something else that they would naturally have to do. Chances are that we would be wrong and their sign wouldn't be that obvious, however we would use this decoy as our sign to each other that we're ready to lay our cards out and collect our bragging rights.

It's all it is at some level. It's a game.