Saturday, 31 August 2013

Spying on undiscovered peoples

We are in a unique period in history where there are still undiscovered peoples, but where we also have sufficiently advanced and discrete surveillance technology to examine them non-disruptively. Are we fully making use of this? We should be hiding spy cameras and microphones in trees.

Structure your data and automate your tasks

If it's in your head, it should probably be written down. If it's on paper, it should probably be digital. If it's in a spreadsheet, it should probably be in a database. If it's in a database, it should probably be merged into another database or at least interfaced with other databases. If you're going do it more than three times, it should probably be scripted or automated.

Sunday, 11 August 2013

Hierarchical democratic government

Current democratic structures are not without some flaws, which include a lack of transparency, a disconnection between the represented and representatives, etc.

One possible solution to this would be a hierarchical form of democratic government. Each citizen would have a vote on only one representative (who would be their representative), and in turn that representative would have a vote on only one representative at a higher tier, and so on.

The ratio of representatives to population needs to be low enough that every person can get to know their representative: at the least one face-to-face meeting per year.

The tier that decisions are taken at would depend on the urgency and importance of the decision. For example, some non-urgent strategic decisions would be decided by plebicite. Less-strategic non-urgent decisions would be put to a vote of tier 1 representative (i.e. those immediately above the populace) (this is for the kind of decision where plebicite turn-out would be low). Urgent decisions (e.g. responding to natural disaster) would be taken at the highest tier.

Every decision of every representative would be publicly disclosed. Citizens could challenge tier 1 representatives on their decisions, including their choice of tier 2 representative; tier 1 representatives could challenge tier 2 representatives, and so on.

One potential down-side to this system could be the number of representatives. I would suggest 1 representative per 1000, at each level. This roughly corresponds to the number of people any one person is able to be acquainted with.

This would result in 1 million representatives for 1 billion people (and hence 7 million representatives for the current population of the world).

Population Number of representatives
1,000 1
1,000,000 1,000
1,000,000,000 1,000,000

Interestingly, this is actually a lower number of representatives per head of population that the US: in 1992 therewere 510,497 popularly elected state and local officials, against a population of 300 million (1 representative per 600).

Saturday, 10 August 2013

The glamour vs reality of working hard

There is a certain glamour to working hard that is often conveyed in popular media. But the reality can be health problems (and not only through neglect of health), strained personal relationships, psychological burnout, etc.

How can we sustainably improve personal output?

Barriers to adoption of a service

Barriers to adoption of a service:

  • UI learning curve
  • Concept learning curve
  • Functionality learning curve
  • Awareness
  • Use by other people
  • Perceived benefits
  • Cost (time, money, other)
  • Inclination to try
  • Inclination to keep trying

Adding social media features to email

It should be relatively easy to add social media type features to an email (webmail or desktop) program. For example, when composing an email the following options (tick-box) could be available:

  • Publish to followers (email pushed into the inbox of anyone of chooses to follow you - a Twitter equivalent)
  • Publish to web (email published on your public facing blog)
  • Publish to private blog (email published on your private facing blog - something that only your friends can read - similar to Facebook status updates)

The publish to followers could actually use email protocols, however there would need to be a separate web interface where people chose to follow / not follow you. Likewise the web interface for public and private blogs would also be required.

Another key use of email: risk/issue highlighting/escalation

A notable example of the "transmitting information" use of email (previously discussed here), is the raising/highlighting/escalation of issues/risks. What is notable about this type of communication is that there is an intention that the act of communication will absolve the communicator of responsibility: by highlighting an issue to one's manager, you are making it their problem.

From the senders point of view, keeping a copy of that email can be important. For example, if the risk materialises, the original communicator can point to the email and say "I raised this with you months ago".

The proactive employee may wish to do more than just flag the issue. If it's something they can't solve themselves, the ability to track the issue is important, potentially reminding the employee to remind the manager of the issue.

This functionality could potentially be delivered via the "assigning a task" functionality discussed previously. However, there is a cultural barrier to both raising tasks for people, and managing upwards. Additionally, a risk or issue may better sit in a different class to tasks, as they may not be something that can actually be ticked off.