Open Market Transparency and Online Dating

What do sound, monopoly-free open markets have to do with online dating?

I recently read my NAF colleague Barry Lynn‘s new piece in Harper’s, “Killing the Competition.” It was fascinating and depressing reading. The concept of “open markets” helped me better understand the role of good transparency in markets, and of markets in the economy. This role goes unfilled by the massive monopolies Barry studied, and the political rhetoric costuming them ruins our understanding of competition. He hinges on true transparency as a necessary feature for open markets to serve their regulatory purpose. If I can discern the true cost of a good or service, and the vendor reflects this price openly, the transaction is most likely to satisfy us both and promote a collective good value for the whole market and its participants. When the true cost of goods is hidden or not met, as by price fixing or investor overconfidence, then things won’t work out well – dotcom crash, housing crash, environmental ruin. Barry writes about open markets like environmentalists write about the wetlands – they represent immense value beyond dollars.

Right now we should all appreciate the problems with a lack of transparency in the financial and housing markets. “Free markets” don’t promote transparency; usually it is a cover term for monopolies that have already abused, and then suffocated, transparency in their own markets. I remember from high school the lesson of Standard Oil, which viciously undercut the price of oil and took a loss to starve their smaller opponents out of the market. A businessman sees a strategy lesson in this, but on a dull mathematical level, Standard Oil’s value imbalance produced an unsustainable market. The market ceased to be an effective regulatory feature on the retail level, so Standard grew into a monopoly and ceased involvement in a market at all. This is the stuff that fuels wealth inequality and an imbalance in the means of production – the math’s numerical results created painful consequences. If we can easily audit and verify both sides of all value equations, we have price transparency.

I thought about this in the context of relationships and dating. The internet, social media, and all of those algorithms and processing power and networks are a platform for a great broadening of information transparency to the online community. Dating site OK Cupid holds fame from crunching its users’ data and blogging about the statistical results. We used to rely on interpreting the nuance of social interaction, choosing what to show and what to hide, to gauge potential partners and present ourselves. Now, you can see how many times someone views your profile, as just one example. Applying information transparency principles suggests that your per-person profile view count is useful data that can help you make a better decision about pursuing, or avoiding, a person on the site. Yet the folks I know who use OK Cupid entreat me not to click “view profile” when they show me someone’s picture who viewed or messaged them on the service. They don’t want to appear as online stalkers or give away their interest, like shy wallflowers at a high school dance. Despite that data’s availability, they play the game as though it were still solely offline and lacked the datasets of the social media sphere.

This increased transparency will bear consequences, similar to the outcomes of the mathematics and environment of a healthy open market. To avoid clicking someone’s profile, even when you really want to, is like obscuring what you would truly pay for a service in an open market. A “price imbalance” grows more likely, and you both risk less satisfaction with the outcome of your “shopping.” If more people embrace transparency in online dating sites, then the matches will be better for more people – better relationships, perhaps even better than the average relationship of the past, will follow. They’ll teach their kids that transparency was key to how they met each other. Instilling a value of transparency in kids can solve some problems in the future. So, view profiles liberally.

My Personal Values from the OTI Field Team Retreat

The Open Technology Initiative’s field team, whose colors I fly, took a day-long retreat at Bloombars in Columbia Heights a couple weeks ago. We discussed our shared values as a team, building towards a values and mission statement for our work at OTI. We’ll bring this statement into the full OTI retreat in February, as will the policy and tech teams. Our goal there is to construct a vision, mission and values statement for OTI from each team’s own work.

One exercise had us jot down our personal values that we bring to our work. I haven’t done this since my AIESEC days, so it was great to take stock of my values at this point in my life. The values I wrote down are as follows:

What I believe about my work:
– Collaboration is better than competition.
– Competition is better than conflict.
– All relationships are based on trust and communication.
– I am working on transforming human communication.
– I like working with cutting edge open source technology developed with values.
– I have things to teach and I have a lot to learn.
– I want to be a force that changes trajectories.
– I like minimal, but clear, definitions.
– My true joy is expressing myself and sharing in others’ expressions of themselves in their way.
– I believe in platforms, not processes.
– Changes aren’t permanent, but change is.

Repost: “Full Circle”

A few nights ago I was staying up way too late stumbling down the rabbit hole that is the Internet. On a whim I searched for a post I’d written at the beginning of 2009, just after AIESEC United States’ Winter National Conference 08-09, where my term as Local Committee President of AIESEC at Georgia Tech ended. Unfortunately the old AIESEC GT blog, where I’d written the post, was lost in Google’s scorching of all FTP blogs on Blogger. However, that particular post had been copied in full and re-posted on a range voting Yahoo! Group. Since I have just become online services director of AIESEC Life, the AIESEC US alumni association, I have decided to re-post that old bit of euphoric writing in full, for posterity. And maybe for the lulz too.

***************************************************

On the night of December 29, 2008, I was in a Zen state.

My former teammate and one of the greatest people I have been blessed to know, Tiffany Curtiss, was elected Member Committee President of AIESEC United States in the first free and fair MCP elections in twelve years.

I haven’t cried in a long time, but I came pretty damn close as Missy poured the water on her head and everyone cheered for Tiffany. What was clear to me, though, is that as much as we were cheering for her, we were cheering for the process, for student ownership, for having a voice. For having come so far just shy of six months after the July 4 letter.

The only thought that had space in my head after the bucket fell was back to the weekend of May 12-14, 2006, when I was told “you have no future in AIESEC US” by the top leadership after trying to bring people together and think for themselves. Instead of doing whatever college students do on the weekend, Tiffany and my AIESEC mentor and former LCP of AIESEC LC Cornell, Arthur Maas, spent the entire weekend on the phone with the key players in New York, and when they were talking about “next steps,” Tiffany was talking about right and wrong. Tiffany, of course, was right, and despite being right, her hours and hours on the phone that weekend got me back into AIESEC US. How incredibly appropriate, how it fits in with the music of the Universe. How justice was served and how progress was lifted up!

I turned off my video camera and I walked up to my room, alone. I could barely even shut the door before the immensity of what had just happened washed over me like a tidal wave. I gripped the table and I put my head against the wall. I closed my eyes and let the reality of it flow through every bit of my being. How years and even months ago, this moment was an unthinkable fairy tale – regardless of the winner of the election. I felt like I have not felt in an incredibly long time, and to the powers that put the breath in my lungs, I let forth in an exhale, “thank you.”

Words cannot express the pride I feel that Tiffany was elected MCP.

And finally, mere hours before my term as LCP ended, I was able to participate as a proxy for Milwaukee (Amira taking the seat for GT) in our legislation, where we established our first compendium in twelve years – and I am proud that I was a key part of writing it. I skipped sessions and I stayed up late to work on the constitution and accountability with Jason, and I personally spent the entire day after the election tweaking and perfecting the range voting process, which was one of the final motions we passed – by acclamation. Though it was hard work and it kept me from hanging out nearly as much as I wanted to with the people who matter to me and friends I haven’t met yet, I realized at the end of the conference how much more valuable it was that we spent our time on things that mattered. We did work together, we built the foundations of a new AIESEC US together. That was far better than anything else I’ve experienced at a US conference before, and I hope for the future members that it only grows and does not stop.

While banging the table to close legislation, we heard loud sounds from above – and through the skylights we saw the fireworks heralding a new year. We did it! And the fireworks let everyone know it.

Poetry upon poetry, the formal New Years Eve dinner that night took place in the exact same room as the plenary of the last Winter Conference in St. Louis. My LCP term ended in the exact same room in which it began. A year ago in that room, as we finished singing “Auld Lang Syne,” I thought to myself: “This is either the year AIESEC US will save itself, or the year in which it will be lost forever.”

I could never have pictured us in that same room one year later, triumphant. The truth is stranger than fiction.

A sincere thanks to all of the people who are a part of the fabric that has been my AIESEC Experience thus far. There are many of you to name, and rest assured you will hear it from me soon. But other than Tiffany, the person I must thank most of all is Missy Shields, outgoing MCP and former LCP of AIESEC at Georgia Tech. Without her AIESEC US would not be here today, and I would not be the person I am, plain and simple. She deserves adulation for years and years, and she will be a golden legend for as long as the word “AIESEC” spurs the heartbeats of people looking for a better future.

To you both: because you have changed me, you have changed the world. Hold me to that.

— http://atlanta.nomadlife.org/2009/01/full-circle.aspx

Year End Self-Analysis 2010

In the spirit of former endeavors, I think it’s a good idea to take another look at myself.

Accomplishments

Failures

  • Did not start learning Chinese as early as I had planned
  • Did not land a paying job in DC by the end of the year
  • Didn’t get to cooking enough on my return to the US
  • Gained back some of the weight I lost in China
  • Didn’t get a solid workout schedule going yet in DC
  • Did not couchsurf as much as I would have liked
  • Fell off the BrainCanvas wagon for a while
  • Did not move forward with Entropy after receiving scathing reviews from the business plan analysts
  • Have not picked music back up yet
  • Did not stay out longer to contemplate the Universe at Nam Tso
  • Didn’t take enough risks

Five Pictures to Sum Up 2010

  1. _mg_0933
  2. img_0300
  3. Trippy Buddhist Art
  4. All You Ever Need in China
  5. Walking the Path in Inner Mongolia

Status of NYE 2011 Vision

  1. Making Waves in Washington, DC: I am in DC and I have an excellent internship.  I’ve only just started getting involved in the community though and I don’t yet have a permanent position.  At least I’m here; not sure that I’m making too many waves.
  2. Working Out my Mind, Body and Soul: My mind is getting a serious workout at the Open Technology Initiative.  I have failed to keep my body in shape recently, something I will correct imminently.  And in the rush of getting settled in a new place, I have neglected specific soul-nurturing.  However, being in the same place as Kelsey has improved my general mood and optimism tenfold.
  3. Learned Conversational Chinese: Done.  However, it’s slowly rotting away sans practice.
  4. My Writing is Referenced in Influential Publications: I was hoping this would happen for BrainCanvas, but I did write two pieces for OTI which have been retweeted nearly a hundred times by some focus-specific thought leaders.
  5. Making Music Regularly: Total failure.  Disappointed in myself.

Looking Forward to NYE 2012

  1. Self-Actualization, or rapidly approaching it
  2. Active participation in creative communities – especially musical
  3. Reaching “Authority” Status on a Useful Topic
  4. Have started something influential
  5. Traveled somewhere new and amazing with Kelsey

Joe Walker, the Myth of the American West and Its Modern Consequences

Westering Man: The Life of Joseph Walker
Westering Man: The Life of Joseph Walker

Last week I finished reading an engaging historical work titled Westering Man: The Life of Joseph Walker by Bil Gilbert.

I came to know of this book during my adventures in genealogy, which I undertook in October whilst resting in Alabama after returning from my year in China.  In the course of my research I found the location of my great-great-great-great-great-great-grandfather’s land, in modern-day Zack, Virginia.  Archibald Rhea was my first paternal ancestor to come to America, and his story is wound up with that of all the original Scotch-Irish migrants to America.  He came over in the late 1720s, settled first in Pennsylvania (around what I believe is now Norristown or Eagleville) and eventually went south and west through the Appalachian Valley to settle that land.  He was a founding trustee of New Providence Presbyterian Church in Raphine, only a few miles from the site of his home.  His family had to flee the area, along with most of its residents, after the threat from Native Americans intensified during the French and Indian War in 1755.

I learned all of this while also preparing to move up to my current residence in Washington, DC.  It so happened that I would be traveling, in reverse, the path my paternal ancestors took from that first foothold down into what is now Etowah County, Alabama.  After seeing the site of my great-great-great-great-grandfather’s land and grave in what is now Happy Valley, TN, I continued up the Great Valley alone and drove near the site of his father’s land in Wythe County, VA.  The next day I came to Zack, where the only thing I knew for identification was the bit about founding the church and that the “Kennedy-McCray” mill is on the site of what was once Archibald’s land.  I happened to meet a man named McCray there, who said he currently owns the land, and he talked to me for a while about the history of the area and I told him what I knew from my research.  He told me that the creek on which my ancestor’s land stood is called Walker’s Creek, named after the first white man to settle this far west in the Colonies, John Walker.  His reconstructed cabin was just a couple of miles down the stream.

John’s grandson Joseph Walker was an even more ambitious mountain man, being the first to lead a white party of significant size to California over the Sierra Nevada.  Joe is the subject of the book that Mr. McCray strongly recommended to me, Westering Man.  Mr. McCray mentioned that the book’s early pages delved into the social and economic reasons for the Scotch-Irish migration to Appalachia, before focusing on the Walker family.

Two things struck me about this book before I was halfway through reading it: Joseph Walker and his family were at once superlative characters, and yet exemplary of the white pioneers who made the white American journey west the singular cultural remembrance in American society.  That story – “How the West was ‘Won’” – is very different than the one I was told in school.

Gilbert leaves no stone unturned in his literary quest to animate this amazing man.  He masterfully segues each paragraph into the next, and progressively fleshes out the details in a highly informative and fascinating way. I stole any five-minute interval I could to read this amazing work, which combines the history of the Scotch-Irish in Appalachia, the economic and social realities of life on the “old frontier” before the American Revolutionary War, and the circumstances of an extraordinary man whose legacy sheds a new light on the things we consider “American” to this day.

The most poignant character contrast is that of Walker with his contemporary and sometime employer, “The Pathfinder” John C. Frémont. Frémont (or the stories Frémont tells about himself) characterizes the common archetype of the of the Western frontiersman: an ambitious white man running roughshod over unseen lands, then standing nobly atop high peaks and declaring the glory of the Republic and Manifest Destiny, all interspersed with violent episodes with the native peoples. He was (mostly) the total opposite of Walker, who held a deep fascination with exploring but not “civilizing” new lands and had a real respect and camaraderie with Native Americans. Walker was generally kind to those he guided, heavily favored diplomacy over guns, and made it a point to not tell tall tales about himself.

This book, though a historical work, makes me ponder the kinds of imagery and justifications our leaders today take when they authorize gunship diplomacy, unilateral intervention and a conflict-based “survival of the fittest” mantra. What Gilbert makes clear through Walker’s pioneering and leading of the Westering movement is that violence did not win the West. Of course, neither was the process completed via some kind of idealistic peace-waging with the natives.  Nevertheless, Joe Walker was a man the likes of which we miss in our characters today; a respectful, understanding, and eager explorer, not a conqueror.

Choosing Three Wishes

It crossed my mind today: if a higher being with the power to grant requests asked me what three things I would like to receive, what would I choose?

Given this is probably a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, I would not be mentally prepared to know what to ask for if the offer came suddenly.  Supernatural beings who can give you anything you want don’t seem to be the type to patiently wait while you study text, myths, triumphs and failures to discern how to best maximize your gains.

There are different ways to approach answering the question.  The two most basic I can identify are deciding what will best benefit your interests and situation by providing you with the necessary keys and environment to achieve your goals, or alternatively determining how a supernatural being thinks and makes choices so the things you ask for will be granted in such a way as to maximize your interests.  A major component of the granting is how the deity interprets your wishes.  In a simplistic example you could say “I want to be the richest man in the world” and receive an amount of money in your bank account and some kind of inheritance and that’s it.  But in the legends and fairy tales we hear of people who receive supernatural gifts, whether earned or not; such statements are always counterbalanced with disasters.  Your inheritance could be disputed by a powerful criminal cartel, you could come under immediate IRS investigation, or you could be overcome by selfish greed and fulfill the adage of “Mo’ money, mo’ problems.”

Thus, if you subscribe to the more simple granting scheme it would probably be better to ask for the means to solve a specific problem.  “Get me out of poverty” or “make my family financially secure” may be looked upon more favorably because it is not asking to put you on the level of the god granting you the wish.  The life of a human is limited; this is our gift, and knocking that out of balance with something so absolute would be disastrous.

I would approach it from the other perspective: the deity will in some way make a judgment about your wishes and that will affect the granting.  For this reason I think it would be unwise to ask for “absolute power” because power is fleeting, power corrupts, and the deity knows all of this.  The deity will be disappointed and likely you will become its slave as a result of the granting.  Even as the billions cry for mercy in the grip of your fingers, how much more your own throat will be clutched by the vise of the god to whom you owe your power.

Thus I reject completely selfish gains and would seek instead to receive divine gifts, not take divine powers. Yet the division between selfishness and selflessness still ought to be considered.  Would the deity mock you if you only wished for “world peace?”  Or would it consider you small-minded if you only wished for things for yourself?  Should you choose one personal skill, one personal pleasure and one let’s-benefit-everyone or some other combination?

I would try to play the role of the hero who receives the gifts of the father / heaven and takes them back to make the world better.  I would try to make one of the wishes give me pleasure as well as responsibility, but the others would purely empower me to solve problems or help improve the world.  What they would be, though, I am not sure.

If I had asked myself this question a year and a half ago I think I would know at least half the answer.  That I don’t know it right now says something.

China’s Currency Reload Combines with Fears of Gulou Shutdown

I do not know anything about currency issues, but I have tried to keep up with the buzz about China possibly revaluing the yuan.

I have a fair amount of RMB saved up in my Construction Bank of China account, and if they appreciate its value, I will have more to take home – or more accurately, more to travel on when my contract is over at the end of August.

At the same time I learned about China warming to revaluation, I read about something tragic in Beijing: the local government looks set to destroy the best part of old Beijing, the Drum and Bell tower area (also known as “Gulou” or 鼓楼) and turn it into a cultural disneyland.  This hurts my heart.  Gulou is my favorite area of Beijing, and it is not overrun like other popular hangout spots with bars and restaurants – probably because there is not a direct subway station (yet) and because the roads in the area are narrow.  I spent a nice evening in the area with Alastair on Tuesday, where we sipped very affordable Tsingtao outside a cozy bar whose owner also manages a hotel next door.  He enthusiastically showed us around this beautifully restored hutong home, where he refitted nine small but elegant and comfortable rooms for lucky guests – who pay no more than 400 RMB per room (about $58).  He swept open an upper room’s curtains to reveal the most romantic view I have yet seen in Beijing: the deep purple horizon melted into the inky black sky where stars shine over the relatively darker Gulou neighborhood, the Drum and Bell Towers themselves powerfully silhouetted only thirty meters away.

All of this will be rendered moot by the government’s eagerness for reshaping the city in their ill-formed vision.

How are those two news items related – the yuan’s revaluation and the assassination of Gulou?

The NYT reports that the initial announcement about the yuan’s revaluation could be made as early as this week, even before paramount leader Hu Jintao arrives in Washington for a nuclear non-proliferation conference.  The Gulou issue, which has met with unsuccessful resistance from community leaders in recent weeks, is at the point of being officially announced.  People who have not lived in Beijing, and even some of those who do and only visit Wudaokou or Sanlitun, are not conscious about Gulou as the last grand fragment of old Beijing, where you can actually feel like you are not far removed from Ming-era markets and the siheyuan of the Manchus during the Qing dynasty.  The soul of that time still lingers here, however faint.

If the yuan revaluation issue were not on the table for several more months and the government announced their plans for the Gulou area now, some non-state news organization should be able to amplify it to the world as an example of the poor values of the government with regard to their cultural treasures, like when they tore down Beijing’s city walls and destroyed all manner of relics during the Cultural Revolution.

I believe the government will announce the revaluation and the Gulou “renovation” project on the same day.  The West will be so obsessed with the yuan issue that even if news of Gulou’s demise reached them, they would ignore it.  Within 24 hours of China’s announcements, bloggers and talking heads will regurgitate each others’ assessments and talk about how this “changes everything” with China.  Those with the biggest predictions of sea change grandeur will get the most clicks.  The silent death of the Northern Capital’s heart will be unheard by anyone except angry locals, especially the business owners who are summarily ejected from their properties.

If I were the government and I intended to both revalue the yuan and kill Gulou, I would do the same thing.  The bigger news to please the world will stifle any significant objection to their transgression.

First Post on WordPress at my own URL!

Hello World all over again.

I finally moved from Blogger over to my own domain, where I have WordPress installed.  I want to do more with my blog, and I’ve gotten some practice with WordPress thanks to my work on BrainCanvas (now much more readable!)  I also could not keep up with posting as much as I should since Blogger is blocked behind China’s Great Firewall.

No more posts to come from my Nomadlife blog; fitting since Google is ending support for Blogger FTP publishing in a couple of months.  I tried to post one last time on the old blog but Blogger wouldn’t publish, neither when I tried to insert a redirect into the old blog’s header.  I suppose that is a result of having to temporarily change my old blog to publishing to a Blogspot.com address in order for the WordPress import to work.  I set it to publish to Nomadlife just for the one last post, but no dice.

Here’s to a successfully maintained, appropriately developed online personal brand.

My Kind of Politics

US President Obama talked to House Republicans on Friday, at their invitation, during a retreat they were holding in Baltimore.  Plenty has been said of it elsewhere, but I particularly liked watching the videos of the actual exchange when he answered questions for over an hour.  During that session, he was like the lone player on the dodgeball team catching everything they lobbed at him and then, one by one, tagging out each policy point and clearly putting the Republicans in the harsh spotlight of rhetoric exposure.

Hardball with Chris Matthews with choice excerpts from the session:

Full Q&A, courtesy of MSNBC:

I liked it not only because his intelligence took center stage (for once in the last twelve months), but also because it could be a very positive development if this kind of exchange occurs regularly.  There are many advantages to such public meetings, not in the least due to the transparency of testing policy points against different branches of government in the public view.  The process won’t be perfect, but I expect that weaker policy points would get dropped, ones that didn’t get dropped would be refined through the questioning process, and the strong ones would gain more supporters.

Some people may say that a regular (monthly?) meeting of the President with different factions in the legislature would be against the spirit of the separation of powers.  I do not think so.  The separation of powers lies in each branch’s ability to formulate and execute its Constitutionally-derived powers, and whether or not the President has a British-style “Question Time” with the legislature would neither change his ability to use his veto nor reduce the ability of Congress to draft legislation.  I think of the intelligence agency situation prior to the September 11th attacks.  Due to their compartmentalization, separation, and even bitter rivalry (even though they serve the same god!) was a significant obstacle to preventing those attacks from happening.  There are reasons why different functional areas should be separated in different agencies, but a healthy network and knowledge exchange among those different agencies could only produce a more capable intelligence community, in which everyone knows their role at the same time as knowing more pertinent information about their areas of focus and to whom information should be delivered in a time of crisis.

The same ought to be true of the government itself, for so long as we have to have one.  Building those rich inter-branch connections and regularly putting policy through the gauntlet can only mean a legislative branch and executive branch which can (more readily) agree that they are on the same team.

If this kind of exchange does occur more regularly, it would turn my interest somewhat more towards getting involved in the political process.  I cannot stand the inane “that’s just the way it is” attitude and reality of the institution, but with more opportunities like what went down on Friday, I would find participation to be much more valuable.

My Year-End Self-Analysis

Per the advice of LifeHacker.

Done while listening to Neil Young’s “Harvest” Album

Accomplishments

  1. Started a relationship with a wonderful woman
  2. Graduated Georgia Tech with a BS in Electrical Engineering, a Spanish Minor, an International Plan and Co-op Certificate, and a 3.06 average
  3. Took my sister on a cool trip to Spain
  4. Had a fantastic cross-country roadtrip
  5. Summited Half Dome
  6. Drew up plans with Kelsey for Entropy
  7. Got a fine job in Beijing
  8. Started the AIESEC Beijing Trainee Committee
  9. Started BrainCanvas with King
  10. Learned a good bit about my ancestry and shared it with the family
  11. Had a wonderful Blue Plate Special shift on WREK


Failures

  1. Didn’t get distinction for graduating
  2. Lost out on my bid for the MindValley traineeship
  3. Didn’t make it into the NOI BootCamp in DC in July
  4. Didn’t get the Eben Tisdale Fellowship
  5. Didn’t make it past the first round in the Unreasonable Institute selection
  6. Got no job offers from the career fair
  7. Fell off of good updating for BrainCanvas
  8. Haven’t started learning Chinese
  9. Started, then stopped working out again
  10. Poorly handled turning down the AIESEC Official Expansion Mongolia invitation

Five Pictures to Sum Up 2009

  1. Revolutionary Beers at City Tavern
  2. Spain Trip 2009 304
  3. California Roadtrip 2009 433
  4. img_9344
  5. img_9075

Looking Forward to NYE 2011

  1. Making Waves in Washington, DC
  2. Working Out my Body, Mind, and Soul
  3. Learned Conversational Chinese
  4. My Writing is Referenced in Influential Publications
  5. Making Music Regularly