22 December, 2009

Human Development Index - What is it?

Some months ago, I had an argument with a businessman about the importance of GDP growth. He claimed that it is fundamentally important to a nation's wellbeing, whereas I claimed that after a certain limit, extra GDP really doesn't create more wellbeing. More sharply, he seemed to think that material wealth and wellbeing were pretty much the same thing. I couldn't have disagreed more.

Anyway, the whole confrontation got me thinking about measuring wealth and wellbeing, especially regarding socio-economical circumstances and the equality of citizens. As a result, I started thinking about HDI, as I remember that it was the abbreviation for Human Development Index. However, apart from the name I had no idea what it was about. So, a little research was due. The point of sharing this is purely the fact that I found this a very interesting subject, and hope to spark someone else's imagination as well.

What is it used for?
HDI is, as the name suggests, an index, valued from 0 to 1. UN makes yearly calculations of the index and publishes the list of countries sorted by HDI. It serves as a rough estimate of the socioeconomical situation in the country and can be used to evaluate, how good the circumstances in a given country are for the purposes of having a long, healthy and economically stable life.

How is it computed?
HDI is a composite index, consisting of three components:
  • life expectancy index
  • education index
  • standard of living index (GDP index)
The subindices are computed as below:
source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Human_Development_Index

After the subindices have been calculated, HDI is established simply by taking the arithmetic mean of the subindices, meaning

HDI = (LEI + EI + GDP) / 3

Further applications
As a single idex value, HDI is not really all that informative. It only measures the average human development in a country, and reveals nothing about problems relating to socioeconomical inequality related to race, gender or place of living, for example. That's why UN calculates also disaggregated HDI values, meaning HDI indices that are calculated for coherent groups in a country, separated by race, for example. Obtaining the disaggregated HDI values for groups separated in different ways can reveal a lot of useful information about the equality in a country, and can potentially tell which groups are left outside the social security system and which are doing better.

Naturally, HDI has its problems. Unless the disaggregated values are computed, it reveals nothing about social equality. Neither does it take into account environmental development in any way. The exploitation of the environment usually only increases a country's GDP, as environmental protection incurs costs on businesses and therefore lowers GDP. As most environmental exploitation is (thank goodness) not dangerous enough to affect the life expectancy of citizens it completely avoids HDI analysis.

22 November, 2009

Time to think!

I have to say, that I'm really surprised and happy the way my autumn has been timewise. No programming courses and a more sensible allocation of my time has meant, that I've had the most free time in the past couple of years! It has really made me see things from a new viewpoint, at least to some extent.

I've noticed that more free time allows me to process things more deeply and thoroughly. Regarding school courses, it means I can, if the subject interests me, devote more time to course projects, thus actually learning something in the process as well. Previously, I had to do projects in a rush, never really getting into the subject. That meant that it was mainly a waste of time and resources, as I never had the time to actually learn about it, I just completed the task, handed out the paper and got back to other coursework.

This time, the Stanford Prison Case, for example, was a totally different deal. I had the pleasant opportunity do devote about 8-10 hours to that project, and it meant I actually learned the concepts along the way, and got at least a decent understanding about the Prison Experiment as a whole. Math has also been more fun than last year, as now I can go back to interesting parts if I feel like it, and don't just have to complete the excercises to pass the course.

To recap, more free time equals more free thinking. Really makes things a lot more interesting and rewarding! And life in general more fun and relaxed :)

09 November, 2009

Entertainment for the masses

We're living in a very normative world, have you noticed that? Just look at the society: everybody wears the same clothes, reads the same news, watches the same TV programs. It took me a long time to realize it, but this autumn has really revealed how bad the situation is.

Take almost any TV series, and you'll quickly note a couple of things. Firstly, the show is probably made in USA. It's probably comedy. And it probably lacks any real meaning. Yes, I like Friends as well, but can you really claim that it has any deeper meaning, that it really teaches anything? I can't. Or how about reality-tv? The same bullshit, but with a reduced level of fun. Watching people I've never heard of before getting wasted, taking a shower, embarrassing themselves on stage or whatever does sound pretty stupid, when you think of it. Isn't it a bit cheap to laugh at other's mistakes, because we're really all the same! I do stupid things as well when I'm drunk, I shower, I make a fool of myself - it's all the same! But suddenly, when you're doing the 'acting', it ain't that fun anymore...

The world is a mystery, and the human nature is that we want to make sense of that mystery. Have you ever seen a 5-year-old asking all the time "Why, mother?". Have you ever wondered, why we lose that ability? I blame it on society. Our daily life is filled with TV soap operas, magazines telling stories nobody really cares about, all that stuff - I'm sure you know what I'm talking about. They all create a steady stream of information that our brain keeps processing, thus eliminating the possibility of actual creative thinking in our everyday life. It's easy, and it ensures the survival of the status quo. It's all just bullshit that keeps our brains running on low capacity, so we won't start questioning anything.

I'm really not a conspiracy theorist; I don't think that it's an evil governmental ploy to keep us in line. It is a cage we have built for ourselves; I really believe that it hinders our capacity to look beyond, to see what's going on in the world. Why live the relationships in soap operas as a bystander instead of getting out and having a life of your own? Why care so much of the characters inside that big box (or even a flatscreen) and so little of yourself?

Despite all of the above, I don't think TV or even TV series are all just crap. There are some good ones, that actually have a message to tell. They can even be funny! I can't tell which series to watch, because it all depends on the person. If you like history, watch a historical show and pick up a few little details on the French revolution. If you like ethical dilemmas, watch House and try to see the moral guidelines behind the decisions. But more importantly, change the way you watch TV. Don't just let your brain doze off! Keep asking "why?" even when watching TV. Try to see the reasons behind the characters' actions, learn a new expression in a foreign language, whatever suits you. But please, don't become another mentally mummified victim of the entertainment industry.

06 October, 2009

My most hated school subjects

So, as I promised, the three subjects at school I've hated the most:

1) Art

I've always royally sucked at drawing, painting, and everything that is more or less a creation of art. I really can't express myself in pictures, I prefer words. I think I've had only one art exercise which I found interesting, and that was geometrical drawing. Very geeky, I know :)

In the past few years, my exposure to the visual arts has been pretty small. I haven't gone to any art galleries or anything, usually they're not my kind of thing really. But I still think, that I've learnt to appreciate art more than I used to. People who are able to express their inner selves visually, and also convey some of that to the public, are true masters. I admire their creativity, for I can never achieve feats like that.

What is art anyway? Why is that important? I'm puzzled by these questions from time to time, but am still unable to answer those. Is there really something in our world, that is only possible to be expressed in art? Is it really possible to transcend some borders of our rationale with art?

2) History

Yup, I really hated this as well - and these days I'm not very proud of it. As I was younger, I was really focused toward the future, and didn't feel like there was anything useful history could teach me. Another reason for me disliking, even hating history lessons was the details. The courses were all about remembering names, years and details. I found that prettu easy to achieve, but really unmotivating. I mean, what use is there to know that the longest piece left of the Berlin Wall is East Side Gallery, if you're unaware of the impact of the Wall on society, and the causes that led to it?

These days, I approach history with a completely different attitude. I don't even bother trying to remember details. If I can remember the correct century it's enough. What I'm looking for is patterns. Patterns in thought, ideas, and analogies derived from those patterns. All that is actually quite interesting, and it's nice to see what have been the worst pitfalls in argumentation throughout history. You'd be surprised to see how little things have changed over the centuries! For my reborn interest in history I owe a huge amount to my dear friend Martin R, who taught me what history of ideas is - thank you for that :)

3) Geometry

Now, people who have known me as a math geek in high school or before might find this surprising, but I've never really liked geometry. For me, it's way too visual, hands-on - and therefore, difficult! I can appreciate the beauty in geometry, but am unable to reproduce it myself. I get very easily stuck in geometry, and really don't "see" some things and implications that are obvious to others.

Of the three subjects, my relation to geometry has probably changed the least. I still dislike it! I remember when we had cylindrical and spherical coordinates last year at uni, I was all the time like "oh, dammit". It was really hard to figure out how you change from one coordinate system to another, 'cause understanding it required a lot of geometrical thinking! Guess I'm just one of those guys who prefers his math to be mostly equations and their applications. Not too much theory, that's pretty terrible as well - really makes you miss all those pictures in geometry!

Looking at my list of three evils, I still laugh at a web-test, which tries to figure out what is the best profession for you. My result - architect!

26 September, 2009

Clean(s)ing the mind

To my horror, I've actually found this period of cleaning my apartment quite inspiring and refreshing. Throwing away bagfuls of paper and making room for more books (and more papers as well) is somehow symbolic. Like throwing out old "been there, done that" -ideas and replacing them with new ones.

The whole mind-cleansing project is still going strong, albeit with a little less momentum than during summertime. Alas, I still have to take care of my responsibilities regarding my studies, and cannot commit myself to full-time philosophic meditation :D Well, to be honest, I've really liked my autumn courses so far: maths, probability & statistics, German, automation technology and work psychology. I find it a good mixture of different kinds of things, with all their different paradigms.

For example, on mornings I attend math lectures, where everything is determinate, and a result of a certain case is completely derivable from the premises. Whereas in psychology, you can only make statistical guesses, but cannot really make any forecasts on a single case, say, the behaviour of a certain worker, for example.

Outside school, I'm still trying to wade through that book about history of ideas, and also reading a bit on the American food industry. Oh, and for a snack I read Paulo Coelho's Zahir, which I found as inspiring as his books before.

As a final note, I'll encourage you to think about something regarding your own personality:

Name the three subjects, you've hated most at school. Why those? What kind of contact (if any) you've had with those in the past few years? Has your attitude changed in any way? Should it?

I'll reveal my own answers next time :)

27 August, 2009

Media and objectivity

I'm downright disappointed with the present-day media. I read the web version of the biggest Finnish newspaper, Helsingin Sanomat, daily and I have to say that the level of journalism is simply appalling.

A couple of months ago, they discovered that one of the government parties, Keskusta, had gotten serious amounts of money from a corporation called Nova Group, plus also an organization called KMS. People were daunted by the fact that one of the biggest political parties got a lot of their financing from more or less shady sources. Some even claimed Keskusta to be corrupt.

Helsingin Sanomat published news about this whole incident pretty much daily and reported all the major discoveries in tracing the background of the so-called "election money". That was good. But, people were thinking to themselves, how about the other big parties - where does their money come from?

Helsingin Sanomat didn't even bother commenting on the other parties for weeks.

Clearly, the just ran after the scent of blood like dogs. The newsaper lacked even the slightest hint of mere reflection of the fact, that it even might be at all possible for the other parties to have equally shady sources. Doesn't sound that objective to me....

To take this to a more general level, I'm asking the following question:
Shouldn't a newspaper (or media in general) be committed to objectivity, insted of just hunting for shocking headlines and mobs of readers?
How could we justify not being objective? Ok, the media company needs to make profit. Can we argue that it can be unobjective in order to attract more readers and thus make more profit?

I think not. I mean, where would it end? Being unobjective means basically not actively looking for, or even trying to hide, all the possible connections. Doesn't that pretty much equal lying? If we accept that, we would also have to accept making up nonexistent news, shouldn't we? Besides, lying and ripping off people's money in the process doesn't really sound very sensible, does it?

What's the point of media companies anyway? Is it to spread the news as objectively and fast as possible to the general public? Or is it making as much profit as possible? Are these two somehow connected? Should they be?

Definitely they should be. One could argue, that readers flock to the paper with the fastest and most objective news, but in Finland it doesn't really work that way. The media market is an oligopoly. There's hardly any good alternatives for YLE and Hesari, are there?

At least I can have some solace in the fact that Internet is creating opportunities for different viewpoints, and we don't have to blindly trust what the newspapers are telling us. On the other hand, isn't there even less chance of a simple freelance writer being objective? After all, he's got his ass and persona on the line, so isn't it harder for him to escape his subjective viewpoint?

Perhaps you just can't really trust anything blindly anymore. I guess you just have to read several sources simultaneously, and make up the conclusions yourself. I guess the reader is the one with all the responsibility these days.

26 August, 2009

Work and meaning

Ok, let us begin with some questions: what is your work? What does your input mean to your company? Is your work noticed? Are you making a difference locally? How about globally? Most importantly, what does your work mean to you?
Someone might say: "Why should I care, it's just a job for God's sake?"

Exactly. From my experience, by saying "just a job" most people mean that:
I) they go to their job, do their stuff and get out
II) they don't think of their job as anything special

Let's delve deeper into the meaning of "just a job" from a couple of viewpoints

1. The company viewpoint
Those people with "just jobs" aren't really effective. They do what is required, but don't really put their minds into it, meaning that their potential for development is rather limited. For the company this naturally means less profit in the future. So, clearly for the company that kind of people aren't a very wise investment.

2. The employee viewpoint
So what is happening here is the exchange of time for money. You're trading in time, and getting out money, and very little else. You might make some occasional friend at work but that's about it. No rush of adrenaline, no highs and lows. Just the same old job. Day after day, week after week...really starts to wear you down, doesn't it? Nothing ever changes, it's all the same. You go on holiday for a week, come back - it's still the same! They hardly even noticed you were away! A couple of days later, even you hardly notice you've been away!

Why does all this matter? Well, I personally believe that this is the cause of a lot of unhappiness in the Western countries. When you have "just a job" you're just erasing your life periodically. It's a subjective blackout. For those couple of hours per day, you pretty much cease to exist. Imagine having to shut yourself down for the workday, every day. It's bound to create bad results!

How did this happen? Well, historically, companies haven't always been the thousands-large monsters they are today. It probably all started when a guy who was good at making swords realized that it's hell of a lot nice to make that sword for Karl and his brother and get food for that instead of farming all the time himself. Basically, he liked making swords. See the difference to our days? There's loads of people who work in an office and fiddle around with piles of paper all day. Is it because they like to fiddle with piles of paper? Probably not, more likely they prefer staying alive to starving under a bridge. They just aren't that interested in their job, it lacks meaning.

Who's to blame for this? Well, nobody, really. It's somehow in the whole system of society. Naturally, it's better to have a job than to starve. But still, it'd be a hell lot better to have an interesting job. But alas, supply and demand don't match in the job market.

What to do about it? Naturally we'll have to try to match supply with demand better. But businesses can do a lot themselves. They can really start seeing employees as people, instead of as just a resource. I know that there are businesses doing this already, but on a larger scale it needs improving. It's the managers' main responsibility to make the employees see the results of their job, to feel themselves needed. Get rid of all the totalitarian influences in the leadership style, and keep Kant's Categorical Imperative in mind:

  1. Act only according to that maxim by which you can at the same time will that it would become a universal law.
  2. Act in such a way that you always treat humanity, whether in your own person or in the person of any other, never simply as a means, but always at the same time as an end.
  3. So act as though you were, through your maxims, a law making member of a kingdom of ends.

21 August, 2009

One-dimensional business

First of all, sincere thanks to Martin R for inspiration and the points in the first chapter. I really value my friends' opinions, even if I don't always agree with them!

Let's start of with the notion that companies have the rights of a juridical person. Then, consider the following: what do companies want? What is their purpose? Clearly, their purpose is to make as much money as possible - it is even in the Finnish law! Suppose a regular person would only have one purpose of existence, be it for example to make as much money as possible. How would one think of such a person? Wouldn't we consider him or her to be more or less a psychopath?

As some of you may have noticed, the above argument has it's defects. Clearly, it makes a suspicious jump from the concept of a juridical person, implying a connection to the "regular" person. Like this:

I. A company is a juridical person
II. A company has only one purpose, making money
III. Any regular person with just one purpose is a psychopath
C. A company is a psychopath

So, the link between a juridical person and a regular person is missing. However, I still think that this is a very important thing to consider.

Why do the companies have only one purpose? Is it impossible for them to have any other goals?
Currently, everything in the business world is measured in money. It's a sort of utilitarianism, except the concept of "usefulness", "happiness" or "greater good" has been replaced with "financial value". Caring for the environment, looking after employees etc. is only useful for the company as long as it creates more money. Image loss, loss of work efficiency, eventually loss of good employees have such big financial drawbacks that it is simply rational to treat your employees well and not spoil the environment - at least in most cases.

What if nobody gets to know about polluting the nearby river? It creates no upheaval among citizens, it never affects the reputation of the company or it's sales! The motivation for behaving ethically comes from the outside, and that's not a very good situation... Well, we have the media for these situations, someone may argue. Look, I'm not very convinced about the supposed objectivity of the media. Believe it or not, but they can be bought as well.

As a conclusion, I only got so far as recognizing the problem with the one-dimensional point of view of companies. Ethical choices are hard to measure in financial terms, and the collateral damage argument really assumes a fully functional, objective media.

I'll try to develop the subject along a couple of lines further and see what I can come up with... If I tried to cram everything into this text it'd simply get out of hand and out of structure. For now, I'll leave you in the hope that all this at least managed to arouse your interest in this problem. Hopefully I'll get back to the subject soon enough.

11 August, 2009

Freeing your mind

I was reading about surrealism and it got me thinking about freeing one's mind and new points of view. How do you do that exactly?

Personally, I've always had three tricks for that:
a) reading
b) running
c) travelling

Strangely, all those three seem to have more or less the same net result, meaning that I'm able to ease my mind, let go of stress and think more freely, to get new points of view. But why those three means? What do they have in common?

If you think about it for a minute, you'll quite soon realize that they all involve a change of environment.

Travelling, that's change by definition. You're bound to experience new things and get a different outlook on life abroad (or if you don't, something's gone wrong with your trip)
Running also quite naturally takes you away from your room, the office or wherever you spend your hours.
But reading? Isn't that exactly something you would do inside your own room? Well, yes and no. Physically, you are in the same environment. Mentally, however, you exist in somewhere else.

So why are these things so important? Well, I'm fairly convinced that new points of view are always worth their weight in gold. It's always fascinating to find a new idea or just to improve an old one! That's why I try to do as much as possible of the three pastimes above. For you, the "top three" might be something completely different, though. I encourage everyone to find their way to relax their thoughts and find new ideas. You'll never know what ideas there are to be discovered! (ideas not in the Platonic sense here)

06 August, 2009

Expertise, specialisation and ethical interest

I spent the past two days reading Edward Said's Representations of the Intellectual (well, actually the Finnish translation). There was a certain point that caught me more or less by surprise. Mainly, the notion that these days people get into more and more specialised fields, and the knowledge we actually possess is all the more fragmented. Said claims, that a true intellectual should be interested in a wide variety of fields.

In a sense, I agree with this notion. After all, being an intellectual is in my mind caring about ethical issues. Trying to be open, as objective as possible and basing ethical choices on facts and universal principles, rather than going with the masses.

To be able to have opinions about ethical issues, naturally the first requirement is that you have to be interested in those ethical problems. And, unfortunately, that is something that a lot of people lack. I've had various discussions with people in Helsinki University of Technology, and to my horror found out that there are a lot of people who aren't interested in ethics in even the most superficial sense! "Why would I want to bother myself with that?", "What a waste of time!" and "What a lot of social science bullshit" are examples of opinions I've come across over the years.

To me, ethics is something I cannot - and don't want to - avoid. I'll rather live a happy life, comfortable with my decisions, than have all the fame, money and power in the world. I know, I know, easy to say that now as I don't have a mortgage stress-factor and wife, 2 kids and a dog waiting for me to bring food to the table. To be honest, I'll still rather skip those and try to live according to my morals! All you rreally need is an open mind, a group of good friends and a little touch of beautiful Mother Nature :)

Finally, here's something that I think sums it up pretty nicely. At least, if you think of liking as facing ethical dilemmas and emerging as an intelligent subject (an opinion I'm sure not everybody shares)

You might as well learn to like yourself, you have an awful lot of time to spend with you.”
- Anonymous

04 August, 2009

The first day of the rest of my life

Have you ever been reborn?
Do you remember what it felt like?

I just returned from Slovenia, where I spent some days at the Velka Planina in the mountains, accompanied by some of the greatest people I've ever had the pleasure of getting to know. We really did nothing special, just gazed at the awesome landscape and discussed the state of the world.

And it was awesome. It was mind-blowing. It was like a slap in the face and kick in the butt that said: "What the hell are you doing? Where did you leave your heart?" I'm still shaking as I'm writing this. The meaning of life - what a simple realization!

What is it then? Well, it ain't get rich or die tryin'. It ain't conquering the world. It ain't 42, either.

Let go.
Open up.
Open your heart.
Lose control.

Make each decision with your heart.

Fight your moral battles.

Stop running from yourself.

Let this be the first day of the rest of my life.