I’m splitting Day 3 in two, as there were three presentations later in the day in addition to the regular papers. They’ll take at least another hour to write up, and right now, I want to sleep. Here’s the papers, three on insurgencies, one on biology:
I saw six presentations today, three of which were interesting enough to write about:
In the afternoon, I snuck away to visit the Albuquerque Aquarium and Botanical Gardens. There were stingrays, sharks, and a great big tubular tank full of beautiful moon jellyfish lit by the refracted light of various informative displays. On entering the gardens proper, I began to wonder if I’d stepped through a looking glass somewhere on the way as huge fake vegetables, ants, and garden implements surrounded me in a truly surreal setting. The four metre high pumpkin, complete with fake rotting interior was particularly strange. Other parts of the garden were more traditional, with glass houses, a rose garden, and, of course, a great big desert garden. For bonus points, there were lots of hummingbirds and dragonflies. Photos of all this when I get back to Seattle.
After a quick trip back to my hostel to change into something a bit more formal than shorts and t-shirt, I returned to the conference hotel for the conference banquet. The food was great, and the scotch was cheap. After the obligatory speeches, there was traditional Navajo dancing, a little more scotch, and an hour reclining in a chair on the portico outside the conference hotel watching the clouds drift by, chatting, and enjoying the warm night air. Divine.
The day begun with a keynote by Dennis Meadows on his ‘Limits to Growth’ work. I came away the following ideas:
Next up was the morning’s parallel session. I was a little distracted as I was presenting my paper “Exploring the dynamics of Music Piracy”, so I didn’t take notes on any of the other papers during this session. There was one in particular I wanted to see, but regretfully couldn’t: “Economic Origins of the Mafia and Patronage System in Sicily“.
For lunch we tried out a local burger chain. It was .. interesting.
Unfortunately, of the papers I saw in the afternoon, three out of five really didn’t grab me. Another, “Model-based exploration of strategies for fostering adoption of improved seed in West Africa“, was quite interesting, but my laptop was out of battery so I didn’t get good notes. Worth a look if you’re into intellectual property, biotech, or developing nations.
The last paper, “Developing Causal Map Codebooks to Analyze Policy Recommendations“, by Michael Deegan was particularly interesting. It sought to analyze the structure of policy recommendations in order to understand why recommendations are very rarely followed (at least in the domain and context of flood plain management by the US Army Corps of Engineers). Here’s what I took away:
The day ended with a reception at the Albuquerque Museum. There were the normal speeches, then a marvellously enthusiastic musical group consisting almost entirely of marimba players. They were both inspiring and amusing to watch, what with the furiously pounding on a giant bass marimba and the general leaping about. Photos later.
Sunday was the PhD colloquium. It was smaller than the full conference has been, but there were still about 50-100 people in attendance. In the morning, there were several presentations, 3 of which I unfortunately missed due to my late arrival the night before, followed by a luncheon. Then, in the afternoon, there was a poster session, some meetings, and a really interesting panel.
After picking up my copy of the conference schedule from registration, one thing became really obvious – there’s a lot of stuff crammed into this conference. Six parallel paper tracks, as well as workshops, chapter meetings, special interest groups, workshops, and all the normal social events. This is both good and bad – good because it’s rare that there’s nothing interesting going on, bad because conflicts between things you’re interested in are common.
Here’s the stuff that grabbed my interest on Sunday:
So, I’m at the 27th International System Dynamics Conference in Albuquerque, New Mexico, at the moment and, like any wannabe writer with a blog, I’m going to make an attempt at live blogging it.
My flights were nice and comfortable, though the second one, from Phoenix to Albuquerque was seriously delayed. At first, this was due to the plane lacking some internal power unit necessary to start the engine, thus requiring the use of some special plane starting device on a truck. Then, once that was sorted, we still had to wait for the plane to cool down – apparently sitting in the sun for a day in Arizona means an internal temperature of something like 55 degrees Celsius (130 F). As a result, I didn’t get to Albuquerque till about 1:30am, well after the office closed at my hostel. By the time I’d woken one of the staff, found my key, and all that, I didn’t get to sleep till about 2:30am.
Figuring that I wouldn’t get much out of the day if I didn’t have at least 7 hours sleep, I skipped the first couple of presentations, and arrived there a little after 10:30, just in time for the end of a presentation on some kind of network modelling.
Before I start talking about specific presentations, though, I should first provide a brief overview of System Dynamics for the uninitiated. Basically, it’s a method of modelling the dynamics within complex systems by specifying mathematical relationships between specific quantities both abstract and concrete. It’s different from a lot of mathematical models because it focuses on the relationships within whole systems and the simultaneous dynamics of multiple variables, rather than focusing on specific individual variables in isolation. There’s a number of relatively famous books either about or employing System Dynamics that you may have heard of:
System Dynamics is related to the work of Norbert Wiener, the General Systems Theory of Bertalanffy, and the cybernetics employed by James Lovelock in his Gaia hypothesis. It’s variously called systems thinking, industrial dynamics, business dynamics, and many other things. There are, apparently subtle differences between all of these, but I’m too new an initiate to know them. Working with it leaves you talking a lot about positive and negative feedback loops, stable and unstable systems, death spirals, exponential and goal-seeking growth, and exogenous and endogenous variables. If any of those phrases sound familiar, you can probably work out approximately what this is all about.
I’m hoping this description isn’t just making you more confused, but I know it’s only just scratching the surface; for a better introduction, check out the article on wikipedia.
Like any modelling methodology, the predictions of made by models in this field are by no means perfect, but it has the advantage that much of its discourse involves explicit acknowledgement and discussion of the sources of model error. Errors often come from boundary conditions (which factors do you model, and which do you leave out?), nonlinearity and discontinuity (how reliable is our knowledge of the relationship between correlated variables?), and input data (how reliable are the statistics you’re putting into your model?). Even ignoring the precision or accuracy of its predictions, System Dynamics offers a way of examine the relationships between the parts of one’s conceptions of a real world system, bringing up inconsistencies and fallacies that would otherwise have gone unnoticed.
That’s enough for this post. Hopefully, tonight I’ll post highlights of the first day of the conference, otherwise I’ll wrap it in with tomorrow’s events.
Another quick observation about motivation:
I was lying in bed just now, tired and thinking of sleep. I picked up the book I’m currently reading (the 2008 Year’s Best Fantasy & Horror anthology, if anyone cares), thumbed to the next story, but barely made it to the end of the second paragraph before giving up.
I was about to get up and turn of the light, but for no apparent reason, I picked up a random paper that was sitting on the pile of books next to my bed. I didn’t intend to actually read it – after all, if high quality short fiction can’t hold my attention, dry academic writing certainly won’t do any better – but for some reason I ended up flicking my eyes through the abstract. I wasn’t taking much in, but for some reason I stuck with it long enough to encounter some survey results that were quite interesting, enough so that I felt like writing some quick notes about it in Evernote. So I did.
But then something interesting happened. The motivation I had for my original note-taking gave me a little momentum, and instead of turning the laptop off and going to bed like I originally intended, I suddenly felt like doing something useful, in this case, writing a paper review that I’ve been putting off for about a week, and then writing this.
Why’s this interesting? I’m intrigued by the idea of motivation having momentum. That by getting excited about some small, easy task, I can carry that over to feeling motivated about some larger task. Thinking back, this is definitely something that’s happened before, and that I think I sometimes take advantage of, but never explicitly. I should try to employ this more often.
Actually, thinking on it, this relates to some great advice I got once about writing. If you’ve got some big writing task that’s really hard to start on, just commit to sitting down in front of the computer, loading up the word processor, and looking at it. You don’t have to do anything more than that. More often than not, you’ll want to write a few words down, and sometimes, you’ll get sucked in. Here, like above, the momentum of defeating a small task carries you into defeating a larger one. I think I’ll have to write more about this in the context of writing some other time.
Oh, and by the way, the paper was about the sociology of strategy board games. You can bet I’ll write something about it some other time
Yesterday was very strange.
Do you ever have those days where you just can’t get anything done? Where all of the things you know are important just seem silly and pointless? Where a Herculean effort is required even to force yourself to put your laundry away?
Of course you do. Everyone has bad days. If you don’t, please comment and tell me your secret.
The thing is, there wasn’t anything actually wrong yesterday. I was in palpably good humour, the weather was pleasant, and nothing went particularly wrong, with the exception of me leaving my gym gear at home, thus being unable to go to Kung Fu practice, my last chance of salvaging the day.
OK. So I get that bad days sometimes happen. But here’s the weird thing. When I finally went to bed late that night, I picked up my notebook and started thinking about the things I needed to do the next day. As I looked over the notes for my various projects, the scrawled to-do lists, and the barely legible Awesome Plans, I felt enthusiastic, organized, and in control. “Huh, that’s funny. I guess the bad day is over”, I thought to myself. “Maybe tomorrow will be better”. A few minutes later though, I got to thinking back on the day, idly wondering which of my many tasks I could have got done had I been less out of it. Those same tasks, which had seemed interesting and important a few minutes ago, suddenly become lackluster, and even painful to contemplate, merely by me having placed them in the context of the bad day.
While I’m sure this has happened to me before, this time I noticed it clearly, and had the presence of mind to play with it a little. By switching back and forth, I could discern that framing tasks in the context of the bad day made them awful, while framing them in the context of the next day made them seem exciting. It was like there was some unholy taint associated with the bad day that spread to anything I contemplated, and even though this was all in the past and there was no way I could make myself perform those tasks in that context, they still felt horrid!
This makes no sense!!
The perception that a day is bad doesn’t seem like it should affect my perception so much. But moreso, I never thought I could manipulate my own enthusiasm and motivation in such a way. Of course, this was a special case – while I could try to avoid thinking of things within a negatively loaded context like this, I don’t really grasp yet how I could use this to positively motivate myself. The experience has opened my eyes to this as a possibility, however.
For the moment, then, the lesson I’m taking is that context plays a much larger role than I ever realized in determining the desirability of things.
Just another way in which we humans aren’t entirely rational, I guess.
Today is the 40th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing, and if that’s not worth celebrating, I really don’t know what is.
Lots of people are celebrating, of course. Here’s a few sites worth checking out:
Incidentally, NASA itself is just over 50 years old, having celebrated its 50th birthday on July 29 last year. The 50th anniversary website is still up, with videos, lectures, articles, and a photo set called “50 Images, 50 Years“, containing many cool photos.
While writing this, I got to thinking: “40 years is quite a long time, I wonder how old those astronauts are now”. Turns out the youngest man alive who has walked on the moon is Charles Duke, who is 74 years old, while the oldest is good old Buzz Aldrin (whose foot you see at top right), at 79. That’s just a bit scary. We’re probably only 5-10 years from losing first hand experience of walking on another world. While I totally grok that unmanned spaceflight is a far better bet for science and exploration, it’s still a little saddening.
There’s one other celebration I didn’t mention yet. After at least two years of work, we’ve finally launched the new Orion’s Arm website. You might think two years is a long time to make a website, but bear in mind that this was done entirely in volunteered spare time, and involved a complete overhaul of the site’s entire content, which at a recent count was 1.4 million words in total. While I did all of the technical work, the real credit goes to Todd Drashner, Stephen Innis, Steve Bowers, and several others assisting them, who painstakingly read, edited, marked up, and in some cases, completely rewrote the whole thing.
This is the third in a series of posts about music appreciation. In previous posts, I argued that:
So, what are some example facets? Here’s a list of the ones I’ve been able to identify so far:
Obviously, this list isn’t exclusive, nor does it correspond to anything empirical – it’s almost entirely a product of introspection, with much inspiration from talking to others about their preferences over the years. I’m simply trying to build a vocabulary of ways in which we can think about our preferences for music so that I can avoid having to talk in simple terms of taste.
I’d be particularly interested to hear suggestions for other facets if you’ve got them..
As mentioned in my first post, I doubt any of this is original, but this doesn’t concern me. In fact, I’d be really interested to see research looking at this sort of thing – I’d be particularly interested in seeing, for example, some sort of data analysis performed on responses given by listeners trying to explain their reaction to particular pieces of music.
In my next, and probably last, post on this topic, I want to talk about the why of all of this – why I find preferences interesting to discuss, and why I get driven insane by people taking my desire for analysis of taste as being somehow critical of them.