Racism

This is the second time I’ve taken the Implicit Association Test about racial equality. [1] And again, I’m one of the 4% with an implicit racism against white people. From the test:

Your data suggest a moderate automatic preference for African American compared to European American

I retook the test a few times. I was trying to game towards neutrality. The results were the same differing only between moderate and slight automatic preference for African Americans compared to European Americans. I guess I’m still racist against white people.

I’m never sure what to make of this. I grew up in suburban white America. I love Friends and Seinfeld. And while I consider myself neutral to race and culture I’m not that surprised I carry some implicit racism. Most people carry these unconscious thoughts. Our claims to neutrality are usually covering up our own bias.

This kind of bias is always troubling, although I can’t help but to wonder why I have a bias against people who look like me. I was happy to see that there were 12% that actually were truly neutral.

Any theories? Please share them! The test is extremely interesting and I would highly recommend taking it

References

1. http://www.understandingprejudice.org/iat/

Anchoring and Affect

One of the most interesting and oft-cited cognitive heuristics is the Anchoring and Adjustment heuristic. A fascinating example is the mock auction biased by the last two digits of the participants Social Security number:

Dan Ariely, professor of management science at MIT Sloan School of Management, conducted a mock auction with his MBA students. He asked students to write down the last two digits of their Social Security numbers, and then submit bids on such items as bottles of wine and chocolate. The half of the group with higher two-digit numbers bid “between 60 percent and 120 percent more” on the items, says Ariely. [1]

A similar heuristic is the Affect heuristic. An “affect” in this case is a feeling of “good” or “bad”, a simple emotional response to any stimulus. An interesting examples of an Affect heuristic is the positive correlation between New York City weather and major stock indexes. [2] In other words, the affect of the weather on investors effects asset prices. A not so subtle reminder of how irrational our rational minds behave.

Much has been written about overcoming and compensating these types of cognitive biases. I would like to propose something radically different. Embrace these biases, use them to your advantage! The beauty of these mental heuristics is that even when we are aware of them, we are still victims to these biases. I’ll write more on our bias blindspot in a future essay.

Everything you do, whether you like it or not, is already anchored. Various inputs, including the weather, create an anchored affect and biases every judgment throughout your day. It’s self-centered and lazy to go through life at the whims of the weather, and everyone else’s mood.

Before you go into an important meeting or negotiation, be prepared with an anchor. And not just to anchor other people you are talking to, but anchor yourself! And it’s easy– the anchor need not have any relevance. A positive anchor is anything that makes you happy and provides a “good” affect, and a negative anchor is anything that provides a “bad” effect. This could be a picture you carry, a song in your head, a vivid memory, anything. It doesn’t even need to be in your conscious awareness, so perhaps carefully selected background music might be appropriate while you are working.

The key is to recognize when to employ a positive affect and when to employ a negative. A positive affect is likely not a wise choice if you are negotiating for a low price or trying to assess risk in a project. Likewise a negative affect could be devastating if you are trying to sell an idea or discover something new.

References

1. http://www.cfo.com/article.cfm/3014027
2. http://heuristics.behaviouralfinance.net/affect/Saun93.pdf

Beard Experiment: Fail

A beard experiment is a wonderful project. A project that requires curiosity and a strong resolve of laziness.

It is a daunting challenge. “I really want to shave, I look horrible,” I told myself repeatedly.

“This itches, I hate it!” Yet my willpower for laziness prevailed. Dreams of full beards and creative displays of mutton chops with handlebar mustaches danced in my mind. “It’ll be worth it,” I reminded myself.

Two weeks in– a startling revelation: I can’t grow a beard. I’m 32 years old and I can’t grow a beard. I’ll never be able to grow a beard. I’ve been drifting through life in denial. Had I lived in a Taliban controlled Afghanistan I would have been imprisoned for life or possibly put to death.

I know there are others like me; and I know some of you are brave enough to persist with these cursed boy-beards attempting to make it a fashion statement. Stop. It’s not cool. It’s like a short-guy puffing his chest out trying to intimidate. Sure, some celebrities have gone this route, like Johnny Depp, Keanu Reeves, or John Mayor. And in all cases, while we can say “that doesn’t look too bad”, no, in fact it does look bad– or at least worse than without the beard.

It’s times like these that we need to listen to the women in our lives. Now if you’ll excuse me I’m going to go home and shave.

Aspergers and LEGOs

The Autism Research Centre at the University of Cambridge recently released a fascinating paper on LEGO therapy. You read that correctly: LEGO therapy! Awesome! The study involved 6-11 year olds with either high functioning autism and/or Asperger Syndrome. [1]

I am suddenly reminded of my own awkward social skills as a child and how amazing it would have been to actually receive therapy involving LEGOs rather than punishment for not paying attention to anything except LEGOs.

LEGOs are like crack if you have Aspergers. On one hand it can be an amazing tool to motivate social interactions and develop spatial reasoning. On the other hand, it’s kind of a cruel joke taking an obsessive detail-oriented ‘perger and putting them in front of LEGOs– a narrow area of interest to focus on without any required speaking or physical dexterity. To this day I continually resist the urge to quit my job and focus full-time on LEGOs.

I never considered the social implications of LEGOs; 90% of my LEGO experience was solitary and became a coping mechanism to deal with the depression from not having any friends. There were however several friends I made who shared my passion for LEGOs — it’s possible that those were crucial moments helping me to overcome my social anxieties.

References

1. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18566882

The 80/20 of your Life

I was thinking about the 20% of my efforts that have yielded 80% of my life; that is, the most important actions that led to who I am today. The list grew pretty long– and included friends, books, projects, art, travels, etc.

An interesting theme emerged– of all the friends, books, mentors, travels, etc., the ones that made the list tended to be those that challenged me to do something new. More importantly, “something new” that I was uncomfortable doing at first.

Perhaps we can define ourselves in terms of challenges overcome, and levels of comfort achieved… Comfort in the face of uncertainty and struggle.

Digital Fine Art

by Timothy Warnock // tim at timwarnock.com // work in progress

What kind of art do you do?

This question is difficult to answer. Every image tends to be completely different. Consider, for example, a piece that involved a large charcoal on newsprint, a pastel painting, both scanned in a high-resolution format, then layered with textures from photographs, then digitally painted with a Wacom tablet — eventually few traces of the original layers are visible. Additional layers are added changing the hue and color characteristics. And still, even more layers are painted adding highlights and definition to achieve the desired lighting and aesthetic. It is not uncommon that you would be dealing with several different mediums.

Some clarification of terms

The term “digital” often refers to the processing and storage of information in discrete numbers (typically in binary). The important distinction is that “digital” refers only to discrete numbers (the numerical base of the counting system is irrelevant). Non-digital, or analog, refers to non-discrete, or continuous systems. Our conventional base-10 counting system is, in fact, digital. A discrete counting system has in no way limited us from representing continuous numbers in mathematics and science — something computers excel at.

So what we’re really talking about with “digital fine art” is a classification of fine art. Digital fine art refers to art that was created with the assistance of computers, and that the artwork can be deconstructed into discrete numbers.

Considering the History of Science, Technology, and Art

Paul Brown, in his essay “An Emergent Paradigm” said it best:

It’s reported, although probably via apocrypha, that Michelangelo was advised by his contemporaries not to use stone as a medium. It was not befitting an artist who should, of course, have been using marble. Three centuries later the Impressionists were reprimanded for using paint from tubes because, as everyone knew, artist grind their own pigments in order to create a personal palette. By the early years of our own century we find the Constructivists being criticized for using modern industrial materials like plastic and steel and reminded that real artists used stone. Duchamp and Schwitters were just two Dadaists who were scathingly attacked for their use of found materials instead of paint out of tubes like the more commendable of their colleagues. [2]

The lessons of history seems plain: the art mainstream is hideously reactionary and beware any creative soul who experiments beyond the boundaries they prescribe. [2]

We’re all occasionally Luddites, even when we don’t mean to be. The beautiful part is what happens next. In every case of new science or new technology, art follows.

Strangely enough, art has historically lagged in its acceptance of new technology, in particular with fine art. Consider photography or lithography, while early pioneers existed in both it took decades before being fully accepted into the fine art world.

Computer art has been with us now for well over thirty years. [1] Photography appears to be the most relevant model for the adoption of digital fine art, and yet digital art takes photography into a new dimension of existence.

Digital Art techniques have freed photography from its own finality. In the hands of a digital artist a photograph is just the beginning, neither real nor unreal. [1]

Modern computing is poised to take over fine art, an eventuality that is as unavoidable as death and taxes. What is fascinating to me, is that digital art unifies the entire history of man-made art.

The visual styles of art which we have accumulated over the last six hundred years of art making–that is, all the art movements of the past that were identified as fostering unique imagery–these styles can be integrated into one another to make Digital Art. In this respect, Digital Art is the ultimate Mixed Media Art. [1]

Massively Mixed Media Art

So how do we combine our oil painting, our pencil sketch, a series of photographs we just snapped, all into a visualization of data collected from a hummingbird flight? Better yet, we want it aesthetically pleasing, and yet inventive in its uniqueness as to overwhelm the audience into a momentary reflection of the boundaries of their own existence. This intersection of science and art is revolutionizing fine art.

Let’s be clear: this is the beginning of a new art movement. [1]

We are, at this moment in history, able to leverage fractal geometry to build mathematical models of nature. And yet we can also leverage the entire body of knowledge of fine art techniques to masterfully produce these visualizations in ways that will stand out in every art history book as a turning point into a new era of art making.

The Art of the Code

Beyond algorithmic visualization [Work in Progress]

The Collectors

What this all means to the collector is that we have new frontiers of art-making to explore and examine. It means that, here at the turn of another century, there is an emerging form of art that comes directly from the technological invention that promises to define the culture of this century. [1]

References

1. http://www.collectorsguide.com/fa/fa100.shtml
2. http://www.dam.org/essays/brown01.htm

Posted in Art

Morning Musings


What excites? What brings you bliss?
I cannot fathom the complexities of life
I occasionally surf through existence
And always it reminds me that I
am responsible for the very world I live
Yet still, I am amazed and in awe of the flux and movement of life; it
seems a feeble mapping of this infinite existence; beautiful still

Write 63 in Binary

One of my coworkers likes to ask people to write 63 in binary when he interviews them.

Some of you might be thinking “that’s stupidly easy”, and many of you may be thinking “I have no idea and I hope I’m never asked that!”

There are many amusing answers to this request. Chief among them is to claim that they (in a computer or IT related field) have no need to know how to write a number in binary. That is the wrong answer. And shame on you for even considering such a thing — change professions immediately! If this question doesn’t appeal to you, then everything in Computer Science and Mathematics will seem like confusing magic and you’ll likely embarrass yourself on a daily basis. This is true for Project Managers, which is likely why so many PMs embarrass themselves all too often.

The correct answer, of course, is not to blurt out the binary string without even thinking, that would appear arrogant at best and cheating at worst. The correct answer is to either write or visibly start plotting out successive powers of 2, and upon reaching 64 (1000000) quickly slap your head at the realization that 63 is, in binary, 1 minus 1000000 therefor 0111111. You get partial credit for knowing, but demonstrating that you realized it was a silly question will get you full credit.

Now here is where the interview can get interesting. Why would a number like this be useful? What would happen if I bit-shift left or right? Suddenly a basic understanding of Boolean logic and Computer Science are uncovered! And at that point it becomes clear who is storing IP addresses as varchars and who is storing them as integers.