Sense-making through Monopoly
December 12, 2015, 10:45 pm
Filed under: Editorializing, Uncategorized

Our economic system is broken. And despite pleas from Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders, among others, too many Americans remain more afraid of the cure of redistribution than of the disease itself.

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Resources for careers in social impact
September 6, 2015, 8:07 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

Here is a list of job sites that I have found useful. They are almost entirely mission-oriented jobs, at a mix of large and small companies and nonprofits.

Job boards

Member organizations

Recruiters with posted listings

Food as Philosophy
February 26, 2014, 6:29 pm
Filed under: Editorializing

Growing up in New Orleans, it’s no surprise that food represents so much more to me than sustenance. I live as I cook, and I cook as I live. To understand my approach to life, step with me into the kitchen:

  1. I’m committed to the result – good, healthful food – but not wedded to a particular recipe for getting there. I balance tried-and-true with surprising-and-unexpected. I taste as I go and adjust as needed.
  2. I let constraints nourish my creativity. I cook without meat. I use organic, local/fair trade, seasonal, and unprocessed as much as possible. I see these as focusing factors, not as limitations.
  3. I start from scratch, but not from a blank slate. I’m always picking up interesting combinations and techniques from friends and restaurants, and I make sure I have versatile ingredients on hand. Continue reading

Chicken Little: The Sky is Flaming
December 4, 2013, 12:58 am
Filed under: creative writing | Tags:

The incident was a thing of history. Not the kind of history you study in school, mind you, but the sort that you take care to not accidentally bring up at a cocktail party. Yet, there was no embarrassment in the decision to move all of farmdom into the barn – not that they were worried the sky would fall, but, really, why not move into the barn?

Embarrassment was, however, clearly evident in Chicken Little’s newfound interest in the physical sciences. Quite responsibly, if I may say so, he wanted to be sure that any future panic was firmly rooted in objective inquiry. (Though, between you and me, I suspect a lingering desire to to differentiate his story from that of the little boy who cried wolf may have also played a part.)

And so it was that Chicken Little held his tongue when he first noticed the temperature rising. He explained away the first hints of smoke and cursed his instruments as the rising cross-draft foiled his temperature readings. In fact, he remained resolutely skeptical right until the weather balloon he sent up fell right back down – melted. Continue reading

The Complexities of Cake
February 3, 2013, 11:19 pm
Filed under: Editorializing

There is a classic scenario from game theory that solves the problem of a parent dividing a cake between two siblings: let one cut the cake in two, and let the other choose which piece to take, and the result will invariably be that the pieces are about equal and neither kid can complain. Well, this hypothetical parent should be glad I’m not their kid, ’cause I’ve been thinking …
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Art and Persuasion
May 13, 2012, 10:43 pm
Filed under: Editorializing, Ideas, Research

In 1995, the new mayor of Bogota, Colombia, set out to address the gridlock and jaywalking that were bringing his city’s streets to a standstill. His solution didn’t involve police or fines, yet it worked so well it was emulated in five other Latin American countries. What did this mayor know about changing behavior that we don’t?

Our usual approaches to changing people’s minds – quoting facts, yelling louder, calling in mom/the police/the military,  and ganging up/getting out the vote – are of limited effectiveness. Even if you get your way today, the cost and effort of keeping the unconvinced on your side can be substantial. So if not by force or facts, how do you win over hearts and minds?

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Games with a point
May 13, 2012, 2:13 am
Filed under: Ideas

Serious games (aka games for change, persuasive games, games for good) are all the rage [at least on my facebook wall thanks to the fact that Games for Change posts new stuff every couple minutes and I haven’t yet decided to block them]. What are they? Games (actual games, often video games) that have some sort of social benefit, whether it’s motivating kids to learn math, helping people understand the government budget process, challenging our perception of news events, imagining an eco-apocalyptic future, or pulling together a community for a shared task like evaluating Parliament expenses.

The book Newsgames has a great rundown of a bunch of types of games that editorialize and inform, which are the games that are most of interest to me personally. I remain skeptical about the power of serious games to institute social change, honestly. They seem a bit like salads at McDonald’s at the moment. I’m not convinced they’re necessarily better for us than the conventional fare (e.g. do we have results showing that the programs are effective and the effects lasting?), and they’re drastically outnumbered by the conventional fare, irrelevant at best and a gateway drug at worst. Plus, if a game has a social message, it probably will only be played by people who already agree with that message.

But the idea is still inspiring. Wouldn’t it be great if games could be a source of social change? Voluntary. Viral. And more effective than less interactive media, e.g. powerpoint presentations of statistics. Here are some games I would like to see — Continue reading

What motivates the motivators?
March 27, 2012, 6:46 pm
Filed under: Brain dump, Editorializing, Research

Gamification is the concept of using the principles of game design in non-game settings, whether it’s making work more productive and rewarding or encouraging people to live healthier lives. I’ve had the pleasure recently of attending two panels on gamification applied to more sustainable lifestyles. As it turned out, the most interesting part of the panels wasn’t how the companies motivate consumers to reduce their environmental impact, but rather how the companies’ business models motivate the design of their programs. What are the incentive structures of the organizations that are creating incentive structures for the rest of us?

The participants in the panels came from Recyclebank (which recently acquired Greenopolis), Terracycle, Practically Green, and MyEnergy, among others. Other companies doing similar work include Daily Feats, Opower, Wattz On, Mint, Weight Watchers, and Good Guide. Continue reading

The information revolution will not be streamed online
June 14, 2011, 12:54 am
Filed under: Editorializing

We are confronted be an increasing amount of choice. How many flavors of jam do you have to choose from at your local supermarket, despite evidence (from Sheena Iyengar’s research) that we are less likely to make a purchase when confronted with so many options? Yet at least we have marketers there to help us decide. We know we want (or need) Gatorade or McDonald’s or Nike or Xbox because marketers have been so kind as to make up our minds for us. Also, those of us with office jobs have many other decisions made for us, or at least have to make many difficult decisions only infrequently. To save for retirement, we select an option (or take the default, if offered) at most once per year; our employers don’t even request our input when deciding which insurance provider we will use. As Abhijit Banerjee and Esther Duflo write, the poor often have an uphill battle against the human urges we all share, to spend now and plan to save later, because they don’t have the benefit of an employer putting savings aside out of their wages or direct depositing them in a bank, for instance. Continue reading

Science as faith, Precision as doubt
June 14, 2011, 12:07 am
Filed under: Editorializing

Several years ago, I started reading the Tibetan Book of the Dead (or Liberation Through Hearing During the Intermediate State). I really just made it through the (very thorough) introduction to the translation I was reading. I was put off by the precision of the text — six bardos, 31 realms, 42 peaceful and 58 wrathful deities, etc. The precision in recounting the invisible seemed to belie an inevitable inaccuracy. How could they know? Continue reading