Friday, July 29, 2011

Motivation and Connoisseur state

Had a thought...

If Maslow's hierarchy of need gives some indication of the various needs and motivations... what happens when someone fulfills their need to such a state that they are "sated" or cease to have any motivation to try to satisfy that need.  I.e

1. A person gets money to buy food.  Once they get more money and food than they want... then what?
2. A person wants respect... what happens when they have a surplus of respect?
3. A person enjoys wine and is motivated to get it.... what happens when they have had enough?  (Apart from a liver transplant...)

To state it simply, what do you do when you are completely jaded with your subject/resource/satisfying thing?

My thought is that there are two solutions:

1. Give it all up and do something else.
2.  Maintain the "surplus" state but find other aspects or properties of the subject matter to keep it interesting.

I would contend that very few people pick the first solution, I'm sure there are a few and they are probably interesting case studies for many reasons; the current topic however is the second solution set.

My guess is that these are the people who move into the "Connoisser" type of activities.  They become wine buffs or foodies or any of the other categories of people who are no longer trying to "fill the hole" in their lives but have the luxury of having "Enough and more".

So the thought was about what are the ways these people still engage with this subject or resource.  Do they motivate themselves by appreciating other properties of the thing? Do they start keeping score or develop some other abstract game mechanic based on properties of the thing to maintain interest?

Later... found a xkcd cartoon on the same topic... sorta

Issues with the two option forced choice paradigm and Likert scales

An issue that I have run into a couple of times recently is working with and designing experiments using the two option forced choice paradigm.

I.e The participant is shown a stimuli and asked to press one of two keys. 

Generally the researcher poses a question to the subject that they need to answer about the stimuli in the form of:

"Do you see X?"  If so, press the X key otherwise press the L key.

So, nothing wrong here so far.  The problem I encounter is the subtle issues with the second key.  In the experiments I am thinking about the researcher is thinking about the second key as meaning exactly the inverse of the first key.  For instance.

"Do you see a face in the ink blot?"
Key 1 means "Yes"
Key 2 means "No".

Nothing terrible yet... the semantic issue is tiny at this point.

Now the researcher moves on to the data analysis phase and does some basic stats with their data set. For instance:

Number of times the participant said "Yes" = 50
Number of times the participant said "No" = 50

( face present/ yes button pressed ) =  45
( face not present/yes button pressed ) = 5
( face present/ no button pressed) = 10
( face not present/ no button pressed) 40

These are nice objective summary stats.  No problem.  The problem re-appears when these summary stats are interpreted.

Specifically when the researcher draws a meaningful conclusion that includes the semantics of the "No" button and assumes it actually means "NO I DID NOT SEE THE FACE".  This is WRONG.

Ok, how best to explain this....

This is at its most abstract a signal detection task.   A naive researcher comes to me with some fundamental assumptions about their research and these form the basis for their data analysis and writeup.

Assumption 1 - The stimuli has two cleanly distinct states.
Condition A - Stimuli contains Signal
Condition B - Stimuli does not contain Signal

Assumption 2 - The participant understands the instructions and accurately answers with 100% confidence using the semantics:
Button 1 -> I DO perceive the signal
Button 2 -> I DO NOT perceive the signal

Assumption 3 - Its a perfect world

So... can you spot any of these assumptions that could possibly be weak (or completely bullshit?)

Assumption 1 is usually more realistically stated as
Condition A contains more Signal than condition B and Condition B contains more Noise than Condition A.  (Keeping in mind that there are many other possible signals being perceived at the same time which may be masking, mutating, distracting, modulating or otherwise making a mess of the signal) 
(Also keep in mind that "Noise" must by its very nature have similar properties to the actual signal and the average brain spends lots of time trying to see patterns in noise... so the distinction between noise and signal is usually only a single property)

While its nice when you have a stimuli that contains 100% signal and a stimuli that contains 100% noise... its usually the grey area between the two where things get interesting. 

Ok, So assumption 2.... Otherwise known as "people factors"... is where the slippery slide really starts. 

Assuming the participant actually answers within some reasonable criteria ( not holding down the same key, having a stroke, accidentally responded while texting their girlfriend etc)  then we can tentatively assume that their response has some semantic meaning.  Refer to above for the idealised version from the naive researcher.   The reality is that the semantic meaning of a participant is more often drawn from ( but may be here)

1. Yes I see the signal
2. No I did not see the signal
3. Yes.... I might have seen the signal
4. No.... I might not have seen the signal
5. I don't know if I saw the signal or not
6. Damn.... I got distracted
7. Is this thing on?
8.  Ok, I think this is broken...
9. I need to go to the toilet
10. I'm bored....
11. I wonder what happens if I press both keys at once...
12. When will this bloody experiment end....
13. I hate this experiment....
14. Wish I could get out of here already...
15. Should I wash my hair tonight....
16. I know the researcher asked me to turn my phone off but I didn't and I'm getting a text about my ebay auction....
17. I'm tired.... should have slept last night...
18. I don't want to let that nice researcher down... how can I make them happy?
19.  My eyeballs hurt....
20.  Can I fake an epileptic fit to get out of here....
21. ..... .....  

You get the idea...

The point I'm making is that the using a two option forced choice, means the researcher is asking the participant to map all the above possible answers into two possible semantic cases:

Yes or No.

As you can see this could introduce a great deal of "Noise" in both conditions as the participant needs to do an on-the-fly classification of what they are thinking into two simple categories. 

Is the answer to ask them for a likert scale?   NO!  The solution is to understand that the answers comming from the participant are again a signal stream. 
Ask the participant to answer in clean semantics

Button 1 - Yes I see the signal in the stimuli.
Button 2  - Other. 

This way you get the signal in one class and the noise in the class.  

The key point is that you cannot make assertions about the noise in the writeup.  You have no way to make or verify assumptions about what the participant meant when they hit the "Other" key. (And realistically you should not care) 

The same problem comes when I see research design with a Likert scale with no "Other" column.  This just means that the participant is being forced to push all the noise into the signal data. 

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Strategies for browsers vs malware

This article contains some insight into the strategies that modern browsers are using to block malware and crapware sites.

Ethics vs Culture

This is an interesting article that highlights the reality of graduates with ethics training meeting the real world and having to make compromises.  And once compromised.... its a slippery slope.

One of the other contributing factors for this kind of situation is that once someone is compromised, society is not forgiving. So there is no forum in which to make a mistake, admit it and get back on the ethical path.  So its easier to try to hide the compromise and once you have a dirty secret to be further compromised.

This same set of problems will occur in every industry where ethics is held in high esteem and is supposed to guide the workers in their choices.  Law enforcement, health, IT, business administration, (not politics) etc...

If we are going to build structures on ethics, then we need mechanisms to allow people who have fallen off the true path a little bit to get back on it quickly and easily, otherwise we set the whole system up to fail.

Yes this kind of thing is exploitable, but I did not suggest that the system should not have a memory....

Monday, July 25, 2011

CSS Lint Tool

Clean up all that tangled css you know is lurking around....

Mechatronics, Programming and Genetics. Fun in the home lab....

What the kids will be getting up to in a few years.....

G8 search Engine

Interesting search engine across G8 Universities for people, pubs and topics.  Just a tiny bit elitist by claiming to represent all of Australia.... but who really cares. 

Microsoft Interoperability Center

This is yet another strange and little known set of resources that make our lives easier.  Basically resources for gluing Microsoft tech with the rest of the world.


I really like this software; well I like what it does. It has a clunky interface and doesn't deal with font sizing gracefully but the premise is gold. 

I have had a look at the competition and they are completely useless.  This is the best of breed.  (But I wish it was better..... would a little attention to stability and the UI be so bad????)

Virtual Reality Peripheral Network

Need to have a look at this for interfacing the Phasespace system with other gear.

Serious Games Conference

Interesting looking mob. 

Secret art of the tutorial

Wisdom for writing tutorials.

Microsoft Surface

This is an interesting looking bit of gear for motion planning experiments.  Need to get one and have a play with it.

Behavior Research Methods

Journal to publish some of my methods papers in.

Kinect Hacking links

When I find some free time.....

Hmmm... at the bottom of a loooong list of things to do with some free time is...

Psychological Testing Tool DMDX

Yet another experiment package for Neuro/psychology experiments.

Survival Guide

This is worth a read for anyone in academia; especially the more rigorous science fields. 

Friday, July 22, 2011

Transcoding into Strange Video Formats

Ok,  I keep having the same problem of needing to transcode some video into weird formats and forgetting which tools to use for which process. I hate having to re-learn the same process every year.


Permier will do all the general formats.
Handbrake will create MKV
VLC will create alot, specifically OGM and OGG using Theora and Vorbis
Quicktime will create alot, specifically Mov & Ogm using just Theora
XMediaRecode will create WebM.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Big data case studies

Some case studies using big data.

Its data analysis time again

Yet another cohort of students are rushing through their research and the first are just starting to hit the analysis phase.

So that I can stop repeating myself (even if its just in my head) the phases of data analysis are:

1. Archive the raw data set.
2. Develop OBJECTIVE cleaning rules
3. Apply Cleaning rules -> Gives you "Clean Data Set"
4. Develop mappings rules (Code book for SPSS people)
5. Apply mapping rules to "Clean Data Set" -> Gives you "Processed Data Set"
6. Develop Analysis Script
7. Apply Analysis Script to "Processed Data" -> Gives you "Analysis Result"
8. Develop Visualization Scripts/Graph/Animation
9. Apply Visualisation to Analysis Result -> Gives you "Information".

Now add to thesis/paper/presentation, sprinkle with magic and watch for green smoke.... tada!  Move to the PhD cue to receive your shingle....

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Adaption in MMOG business models

Good article on the changing business models in the MMOG market.  Same message. Adapt or die.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Two types of interesting

The content in this article(?) is interesting but there are a couple of other novel aspects to it as well. 

The first aspect that I found interesting is that this is an novel way to present a literature review on a particular topic.  Displaying a simple graphic summarising the literature is both elegant and engaging.  It asks me the question, "Do I agree with the placement of the nodes in the graph?" "What are the extreems in the graph? Can I think of anything more extreme?".

The second aspect is to have made the graph clickable and in so doing, created an interesting sorted menu ( in 2 dimensions) of topics I may wish to further examine. Again, this is novel and engaging.

Good information design, presentation and analysis all rolled into one simple graph.

Friday, July 15, 2011

More evolution in the app industry

This is an interesting summary of the patterns in the independent software field at the moment. Need to think about this a bit and get back to it.

vocational vs elite education

There is pattern amoung the arguments that I see around the University that I have been trying to articulate for a while.  It came together for me recently.

The problem I see is the difference in viewpoints between staff who are arguing about a particular topic.  The two viewpoints I have come to call "Vocational" and "Elite". 

The premise is that an "Elite" education institution is there to perform research and train other researchers. In this case, the marking scale is all about the top 20% of students. (Distinction, High Distinction) Essentially the other 80% of the students are washouts.  They are discarded and are worthless.  The purpose of this system is to select the best and provide a pathway to greatness for them.  This excuses any degree of silly competative/over assessment/ selection commitees etc that the system (or particular people) want to impose because the best will pass while the rest will not.

On the other hand is the vocational training point of view.  In this model, the training course is about volume throughput. The system is trying to generate skilled professionals who are ready to get out into the community and pick up some of the load.  In this case, there is probably an argument for trying to drop the bottom 10-20% but only if they actually fail themselves.  The rest of the students should pass and get their accreditation.  In this type of system, the assessment is set at a reasonable level to assess competence. 

I see these two viewpoints as the root of a great many arguments and frustrations around the Uni.  Its reasonable as most of the staff have been through an elite system. However some have come up from vocational systems, so there are fundamental differences in their perceptions of how the world works.

Currently too many of the courses are structured at one end or the other.  There are an unfortunate few that are a dysfunctional mix of the two. 
My personal feel is that all courses should be structured to have both a vocational stream and an elite stream.  Students should be able to study and get a job (where jobs exist) or compete for more elite training if they display the aptitude and commitment. 

Don't get me started on the insanity that is accreditation committees or accreditation bodies.  These are the worse embodyment of these points of view. 

The nursing program is moving from vocational to elite but without being able to drop the vocational aspect, because fundamentally, we need nurses.  On the other hand, the psychology program is moving from elite to needing to provide vocational outcomes for students.  There is a desperate need for mental health professionals, but the accreditation bodies are still trying to force all professionals to go through an elite model.  So we end up with only the top few students being able to get through, and they are then split between going into research and academia or becoming clinicians.  Meanwhile the community is starved of professionals and the remaining 80% of students have no clear pathway ahead.  Genius.

Unfortnatly, this is a very ingrained point of view.  Most of the staff have had very stong formative experiences at either end of the spectrum and struggle to see any sort of concensus. While the few people in the middle argue for something that they cannot implement without the help of the rest of the staff.

This all comes back to the argument about what is the role of Universities in society.  If they are vocational trainers... then what's TAFE for?  If they are elite reseach institutions, what are all the vocational training courses doing on the campuse? (cashcow!)

Can the two ends of the spectrum play together?  I think there are more partnerships between vocational and elite education opening up around the country, but all it takes is the appointment of a key player who doesn't get it and the whole system gets turned up side down.  See the recent appointment of our faculty dean for a case study. (Although she was clearly unsuitable for a number of reasons and will not be missed now they have canned her. What a fuckup.)

All we can do is change one mind at a time. 

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Software engineering proverbs

There are some good thoughts on this page.

Degrees of abstraction in UI design

Just reading the help file for a particular piece of research software (which will remain nameless).   The point is that the help file and the UI that it describes is operating at a very low level of granularity.  Each of the controls does some tiny cryptic operation that only makes sense to the original programmer/designer.  So to configure it to do one high level function, you need to manipulate a whole slew of tiny, fine grained controls that by themselves are semantically meaningless and completely logically disconnected.  

Don't get the idea that my software is so much better, the very fact that this is a bit of a revelation to me probably means I have been committing the same crimes... (probably?  Definitely!)  but admitting you have a problem is the first step....

So how would I do it better? 

Well for starters, I think rather than having many low level settings that can be used to construct a higher level abstraction,  start with the high level abstraction ( like a template or profile of settings) than can then be modified if required. This provides context for each of the settings and allows the user to build an easy mental schema and then to modify it and derive variations easily.  Much easier to understand the system and provides a simpler way for the developer to cater to the needs of the users.

The other issue is documentation.  By working from the high level abstraction down to a low level, its easy to build the users mental schema. However its hard when the task the user is trying to accomplish is not like the high level abstraction that you are using as the basis for the explanation.  So in the case where the research software is kind of a "build an experiment toolkit", its important to do both. Provide a number of high level case studies, to communicate the high level context that all the settings and bits fit into as well as a low level description of each individual component and how they might interact with every other component.  Easy... lol.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

More debit semantics

Debit = Time shifted expenditure(expenditure = asset loss)

Therefore if investment is diametrically opposite on the same axis:

Investment = time shifted income (Income = asset gain not access to resources)

Assets are internal while resources are external (From resiliance theory)

All this suggests that the semantic concept that I have been trying to describe as "equilibrium" needs a different name and concept set.  Its closer to some concept of "Individual" or "self" .  This includes the possibility of the individual changing ( increasing in assets and decreasing) while the idea of "equilibrium" suggests something more static.

The problem being that the central concept needs to encapsulate a descriptor for each of the dimensions/properties that are used to describe it. It also needs to capture state and again some sense of the relative and absolute value....  is there any possible single word to describe this ball of mud concept?

More thinking.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Movie - The expendables

Just watched the Expendables.  While its a fun genre flick that cameos a number of old school action stars, its also very carefully crafted.
Its a study in being very respectful of the key genre conventions while addressing the flaws that plagued the previous movies and defined the worst of the genre. Shall we list them?

* Pithy catch phrases. 

These have been a staple of action movies for the past two decades. Although I would have to say that Stalones movies have been free of them, so perhaps its simply his integrity that is at play. 

* Disposable friends

One of the common conventions has always been the death of some 2 dimensional friend of the lead character as a pretext for the mayhem and retribution in the movie.  As a pleasant suprise, in this movie the friendships are complicated and not cheapened by being used as cannon fodder by the lazy script writers.

* Traitors

A common theme has often been that of the friendship gone bad.  While there is a rivalry in this movie between stalone and schwarzenneger, its presented as a rivalry between mature adults rather than petulant teenagers. These people may not like each other but they are not malicious about it. 

* Cameos

The appearance of actors from old school movies is both a homage and a different touch.  Its a feature of comedy movies not action movies. Usually its only the star of the movie who has a name while all the others (except perhaps the archvillan) are nameless in terms of their careers. 

* No character development

Even though there was not a huge amount in this movie and it was far from deep, each character got to present a little set piece at some point to give a tiny little bit of dimension.  There was no effort to explain motivation or expectations, the characters are still directionless and aimless in their lives but they are far from the paper thin super soldiers so common in most action movies.

* Frailty

Even though it was a little staged, the man on man fight between stalone and Austin was unconventional because the hero did not get the upper hand. As this was the traditional confrontation where the hero was beaten but not broken, this was fairly conventional but still to voice the fact that the character feels like they were beaten is unusual.  Stalone still took the traditional shoulder wound at the end. Its almost a signature.


There was a token BFG, in the shape of an automatic shotgun firing some kind of mini-missile.  There was very little posing with it and virtually no other posing in the movie.  There were a couple of stylalised moved but this was probably more from habit. They are probably in the dna of holywood by now, to the extent that most of the actors probably pose in their sleep.  I can forgive a couple of low key ones as there has to be a certain amount of genre material, it cant all be convention breaking. The very fact that there was so few momemts where they symbolically "got out their guns" turned it from the usual cock fest into almost a narrative.

I think the scene where stalone was hanging out the door of the aircraft as they escaped Vilena after their first visit was a little homage to the scene in the second rambo movie where he is dropped from the aircraft and gets hung up with his chute cable. (What would be the actual odds of that happening??) While there are not really that many possible angles to shoot it from, it was very similar.  Not the same but just similar. 

* minimal gore

The amount of gore was light.  Not absent as in some strange movies but basic and just used for set dressing rather than spattered everywhere. 

* competent effects

There was really only one effect that I found weak. It was the clean and neat placement of bullet holes in the door of the little truck that stalone was driving when they were ambushed in the street.  While it may have been realistic, it was too neat and tidy.  The only other bit was the neatness of the fire effects in the final battle.  This was just too "neat" but the function was fairly specific so there wasn't a great deal of opportunity for other presentations.

* No token mercy

Another refreshing change was the convention that the hero cannot kill the villan without some sort of token "fair fight" and the villan pulling a secret gun and "cheating". (where apon the hero is ethically free to kill them in self defense) I have always found that particular ethical convolution particularly disturbing.  If you follow the logical conclusion, the hero needs to be in a state where they are ready and willing to kill the villan, and are waiting for any excuse, which the script writer then provides for that final cathartic guilt free release of vengence, retribution or whatever justifiable rage has motivated the honerable hero.  ( The fact that the hero has guiltlessly slaughtered their way through countless faceless henchmen prior to that point is glossed over in the ethical rationalisation fest)

* Pointless monologues

There were a couple of small monologues but thankfully the script writer as skilled enough to avoid them.  There was enough development of the villan characters and enough conflict between them to explain sufficiently what was going on and present the characters without resorting to exposition from the villan on their motivations.  There was a small one at the final showdown, but it was short and fairly hard to hear so I will let it pass.

* Ham fisted exposition

While there were a couple of minor points of exposition, they were not painful.  At some point the audience needs to pick up enough background to understand the key relationships and motivations, so while its effective, thankfully it was in very small does.The conflict between the villans served as a useful device to develop those characters. I twas an interesting scenario to have two villain characters openly conflicting and having their relationship moving toward a showdown.  This is an interesting technique. Usually the villian only has a couple of henchmen to act as foils for exposition to defiine their character. 

* endless bullets

One of the chronic problems with this genre is the shear amount of ammo that the hero can not only chew through but apparently carry and fit into one magazine.  This movie was fairly good about sticking to the bullet limit and not testing the credibility of people who can count. 

* weapon choice

The wild mix of armlaments made the usual mistakes of all movie armorers who go for variety rather than consistnecy.  Just about every weapon used by the "heros" was of a different type. Some of the pistols were similar but the larger weapons where a wild mix. No wonder when they ran out of rounds, they had to stop, simpy because they could not scavange amo.   The henchmen has the standard issue AK-47's The favorite of every amourer in holywood apparently. The selection of knives was fairly competent however the choice of loose holsters for the throwing knives was just amature. 

More later.  All in all, I think there was a great deal of subtly in the movie, as a Genre flick and as a very well crafted movie by a cleaver and mature director.  They were not trying to make high art, but they were definitly masters of the craft and understood how to speak the genre language and say something new.

It will be interesting to see the followup movie.  I think its obvious that the stage has been set for a series. ( I should probably check IMDB if I really wanted to know, but I'm happy to speculate)  without being nasty, its like a retirement home for action stars. A warm familiar genre that they call all come back to, but done by a master script writer and competent cinematographer.  For a movie buff, its a gift that keeps on giving.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Signal to noise ratio on Linkedin

Made the mistake of joining a few groups on Linkedin.  The topics looked interesting but the content has turned out to be drivel.  Reminds me why I really hate social networks. They are just awash with noise.  I guess this in itself is a kind of signal; at a meta level; but....

I think thats one of the mistakes when looking at a massive noisy data set is to find patterns much easier.  My sanity checker is simply look at the magnitude.  If you find 5000 people talking about a brand name, do you care?  Do you spend time digging into it to understand why? Certainly if your a consultant you try to make something out of it... but as a researcher you simply calcuate the magnitude of the signal in the sample and see if you have something thats statistically unusual.  I have the sneaking suspicion that quite a few consultants would be finding another job if their clients understood this kind of simple acid test. 

Anyway, my video render job has just about finished, so time to go scrape some more malware of a computer and debug a software job.  Just another day at the office.

More Debit

I had another thought about debit. Can't think of it right now.

Mess vs Cleaning
Storing food vs wasting it. 
Pest management.
Saftey vs exposure
Health vs destructive living
Sleep and exercise

All the usual things that get described using the debit investment nomenclature.

So the basic idea is about pivoting around equilibrium.  Although this has to be an abstraction, and a relative one at that.  At any time you can call whatever you like or want the balance point and see activity as either a positive or negative against the relative center.

I think the key point is that some activities are intrinsically negative within a given context. While some are intrinsically positive within the same context. The question is why? Why are these activities so "obviously" easy to classifiy? Why do they map so easily to the ecconomic models that have been developed to explain the games people have developed with money... oh wait... the common element is people.  Perhaps the rules of ecconomics are actually representative of some rule set that people have encoded at a more fundamental level. Could it be?

Perhaps the concepts of gain, loss, investment, debit etc map so easily to so many other systems is that the same fundamental drives have been abstracted and form the basis of the ecconomy. We just happen to have ignored the connection.

At its most fundamental, people are motivated by self interest.  If you look at the fundamentals of a commercial organisation, its composed of many people and the "profit" motive is the same thing writ large. Really just the same self interest magnified and channelled.

An interesting aside that I was debating with myself this morning was the idea of what happens when someone does not put their self interest first.  Is this even possible?  Unless we talk about really brutal absolutes, I think its quite common for people to put other things above their self interest. It's certainly common for people to work for the collective, family or team... but is this really putting the interest of the group ahead of the individual or is this just the individual investing in the group with the expectation of self benefit being a side effect of the groups situation being improved by the contribution of the individual.

So the question is what sort of scenario could be constructed in which an individuals self interest is compeletly at odds with that of the group and for the individual to still be motivated to work for the group.

I guess when some other motivation trumps that of self interest... things like fear... but usually fear is based on self preservation or pain avoidance, the avoidance of pain or loss or something else that the individual values.  Something is threatened.  Fear of the unknown?  How does this work?  People are certainly motivated by fear of the unknown but I guess in different ways, depending on what particular unknown they imagine is out there.  If someone is scared of monsters in the woods... its basically fear of getting eaten by something... again comes back to self interest ( or fear for the individuals children)

This leads into a different thread.  The idea of being motivated by the interests of ones children.  This is a clear case of something trumping pure self interest. The same sort of pattern can be seen where someone identifies a project, product or thing as "their baby". People make some irrational decisions that are not always in their interests but are motivated by protecting something they strongly identify as being their "baby".

Again without getting into "law of the jungle" kind of scenarios, there are lots of people who will make choices that favour their children over themselves.  Otherwise, "taking candy from a baby" would be much more common.
Then again there are clearly enough people who go the other way, but that's not the point.

So, self interest being the root of personal motivation, but what is the essence of "self interest"?  Can we break it down?

We get back to maslows hierarchy of needs.

Physiological needs
Saftey needs
Love and belonging
Slef actualisation 
Self Trancendence(aparently added by some guy called Vikto Frankl acording to wikipedia

So if you cook self interest down into these levels (I don't fundamentally disagree) then the decisions are fundamentally  satisfying one or another drive. Simple enough.

Then we take it back to ecconomic models, which I contest are based on some mess of these drives made large. So to bring a long ramble around to something that looks like a circle; if the principles of the ecconomic model are derived and understood in from the point of view of the motivation of the individual then most of it makes pretty obvious sense. There are no great mysteries, just lots of agents in a dynamic system trying like hell to look after themselves and their offspring.  Big suprise to anyone?

And how does an intuitive understanding of debit relate to this? I think that just about everyone understands debit because it has very concrete instances.  Running your health down, not cleaning up, not fixing the car when it needs it..  Unless you're a natural abstract thinker, these ideas stay at the intuitive level.

Ok, there is no real content in this ramble, its late and my brain is just wandering around.  Not even sure this is cathartic anymore... just rambling without much in the way of a point.

I'm out.

More later....

Ok, so forgive the whole sleepy typing thing... I just felt the need to write.

I think the seed of the idea in the ramble above gets back to the intuitive models that everyone has about the way the world works.  (psychology 101) Equilibrium is the most recently remembered state of rest.  While debit is relative to that, its expenditure that we intuitivly know we will have to pay back later. There are many different ways to draw down on the equilibrium but we all know that its a tradeoff.  For us to perceive such a tradeoff however we need to have a set of concepts that allow us to perceive that the world works like this.  Behind all this is some sense of "karma" or something similar.  Some cultural imperitive that says we not only can return to some higher state but should.

If you think about it, non social species do not seem to carry these abstractions.  A small mammal living in the bush will make decisions based on the options availible to it at any given time. Some have developed simple social structures but are essentially historyless. Each day starts it all again.  There is still individual memmory, so they are not completely historyless.  There is no oral history and very little ability or desire to communicate more complex abstractions than "Fight, feed, flee"  So they have no concept of debit.  They cannot make time based tradeoffs.  They cannot save for the future.  They cannot build up resources except what they can carry or hide.
Is this right? What about animals that do invest?  They invest in relationships ( mating pairs), they invest in constructions ( nests, tunnels, warrens) they store for winter ( fat, nuts, kills) etc.  While its easy to make the assumption that its all some hard wired biological impreitive there is still a sense of understanding of investment and loss when a nest is destroyed or a cache of food raided by someone else.
How does a squirell know that it has enough food stored?  Do they just keep storing until its time to sleep and then just wing it?  Its certainly a strategy and the kind of brutal selection that is common in nature.  So it makes sense.  Simple strategy that works across the population but is pretty much random chance for the individual.  Good old nature.

So the odds are that most animal behaviour that I would call investment is actually just a set of encoded behaviours and strategies that I, in my pattern seeking nature apply the name of investment too.  There is nothing but a successful strategy that has adapted to the environment.  (The question is whether its socially encoded or neurally encoded and what the difference is in reality)

If these strategies where neurally encoded ( possible) it would be fairly easy to test by simply taking a squirell from an area where they have successfully adapted and placing them in a different environment where their strategies were not as strongly successful.  See if they continue to perform the same habits( in which case the conclusion woud be that they are neurally encoded) or if they adapt to the local situation ( possibly by either working it out or watching the neighbours) then the conclusion would be that the stategies are socially encoded.  If the squirell was able to breed, would their offspring (in a single generation) display the same strategies that their parent(s) displayed in their former habitat or would they have adapted to their new habitat.  My thesis is that they would not have adapted because they did not need to.  They would not have any memory of their parents habitat, but they may still model their parents behaviour, even if it didn't make as much sense in the context. The next generation would be even more adapted as they modeled less and less of their grand parents behaviour ( assuming there is a nice gene pool and we are not practicing any inbreeding in this though experiment...)

So, debit.  While I think understanding debit is intuitive, I don't think its in our dna.  I think its part of a socially encoded set of strategies that has been built into the cultural norms of most of the more developed cultures. If you look at the remaining hunter gatherer societies, the concepts of storing and investing are much less developed. They play by similar rules to the animals that invest; in that there is a distinct risk that when you check on your investment it might all be wiped out and there is pretty much nothing you can do about it. Its worth doing but don't rely on it.

I have heard it expressed a couple of times that cultural groups with no history of saving do not immediatly "get it" all their cultural strategies are to just go out, go fishing, eat, be happy, repeat.  When there is an abundance of food and no effective ways to preserve it, how would anyone develp a strategy that included investment and debit models.

Still there has to be investment and debit concepts.  Build a house, has a high cost in energy with a promise of a future payoff.  This becomes even more complex when you need to get other peoples help to do the work. Their immediate payoff is nothing. But they have the expectation that in the future, you will help them in turn. "What goes around comes around".  "You scratch my back and I will scratch yours".

These fundamental ideas all depend on self-interest, a sense of investment and return and strategies that can be socially encoded. Investment and return is based on time-shifting value decisions. This depends on the ability to make a value decions and project the return equation into the future.

These ideas all depend on concepts of time, space, common linear movement of people through time, common appreciation of value as a constant over time as a constant.  There are also lots of social structures that need to be in place. Honesty, communication, mutually held belief in what the future might hold, common abstractions about ownership of the value that being invested, concepts of transferal of value, comparison of value so one party does not over spend.  This leads to ideas about equity and that leads to fairness and justice.

So, my current thesis is that with a pile of needs and the concept of time, and the ability to make a simple value judgement, we have developed all the complexity of an ecconomy. Around which we have built many differnet cultures and belief systems, but at their root are the same common factors.

So the interesting idea is to look for scenarios where these factors have been different.  Concept of time would be the most signficant, I guess. I wonder what would happen if you could model an AI society and then play with the concepts of time.  Either by removing the shared understanding of time or by making different actors perceive time differently.  My first guess is that chaos would ensue.  Could a society adapt to something like that?  I have read a few speculative fiction works that played with the idea in various ways but its hard to pick.