This essay was written as a summary of basic finances. Topics covered include: budgeting, saving, insurance, and investing.
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Design exists for two reasons: to extend our lives, and to make them more enjoyable.
Design is a conscious approach to problem solving that results in the creation of an original product or system. Products solve concrete tasks while systems organize multiple products into an integrated whole that offers additional functionality. For example, an ambulance is a product; a hospital is a system. A bed is a product; a home is system, and so on.
The challenge of a good design is to offer maximum functionaliy (which brings complexity) whilst maintaining simplicity (which demands reliability and understandability.) Design exists for two reasons: to extend our lives, and to make them more enjoyable. For example: cars, phones, vaccines, and sanitation systems increase our productivity and protect our health, adding decades to our lives. On the other hand, furniture, games, fine food, and art are designed to increase the pleasure of said decades.
The best designs exemplify one or both of these categories, which can be thought of as speed and ease, or together: efficiency. Efficiency is how fast information is conveyed and/or the simplicity with which a task can be executed. This is the first and most important test of any design, and we like to think that most decisions are made on this basis. But design offers more than just way to get things done quickly, and sometimes, people choose products that are perceived as less efficient over ones that are seen as more so.
Take, for example, some people’s decision to drive a car over taking public transportation. In many cases, it takes longer to get to work, but the comfort, self-direction, and privacy of driving outweigh the safety and promptness of public transit. Good design recognizes that efficiency is nothing without comfort, and may in fact be subordinate to it. This is one reason why so much of today’s environment is made up of poorly designed products and systems.
Good design requires an understanding not only of the task(s) to be preformed, but also of the person(s) who will be preforming it. This is the basis of "Human Centered Design." As with anything in life, a product either helps or it hurts us. No design is neutral, and every product requires an investment upfront. It must pay dividends or we lose the investment. This is the reason we must always consider our design approach. The systems we create determine our actions, and ultimately, our happiness.
Some designers argue that when designing a product, functional considerations are not the end goal, but rather, the baseline from which the aesthetic qualities of an object may be subsequently developed. They go on to assert that bad design can be perfectly functional, while truly good design is the result of perusing something more than the bare necessities: the ornamentation of an object for the purpose of celebrating its beauty and the creative spirit involved. In today’s culture of harsh minimalism, this message in support of opulence is controversial. Nowadays, anything that exists for its own sake is viewed as an unnecessary indulgence.
An object must be inherently useful in order to justify its creation. It would be frowned upon to argue for a design’s production based on its looks, and yet, many designers sell their aesthetic vision on (false) functional grounds; there has always been a disconnect between what the creator and the consumer have wanted. It is the very reason that one is in the business of creating, and the other, of buying. While they share the goal of building, their motives are disparate and at times conflicting.
The great designer George Nelson argued that those who can appreciate good design do not need it, giving examples of such great minds as Einsten, Matisse and Picasso, and pointing to their “ill-furnished” houses as proof. But what remains of design if those who need it are unable appreciate it, and those who can do not indulge in it? It seems somewhat fatalistic to suppose that only the designer himself benefits intellectually from the creation of a truly great product. Yes, perhaps, minds such as Einstein and Picasso “are busy making good designs of their own and need no further distraction,” but what of the rest of us?
Surely, we can appreciate the “emotional and intellectual maturity” that is demanded of great designers. Surely, we can marvel at the ingenuity and the discipline required to simplify and improve upon what exists? Nelson argues that design is a statement, and this much is true, but design is much more than what he boils it down to; design is not the art of pulling the wool over the consumers’ eyes, of using buzzwords to sell ones own personal aesthetic goal. Design is about raising other up, by offering them a vision of the world greater than what they had imagined, by offering more, so that they will demand more.
Good design is the connection between the conceptual and the concrete, between what we believe and what exists. When we see or experience good design, we think, ‘Yes, this is the way the world should be!’ What greater goal is there, than to inspire others in such a way?
When executing a design, one should consider following a few rules:
No quick fixes.
Real progress takes time. Temporary solutions are only interest payments on a problem. Good design is a systematic approach to problem solving that requires training and patience.
Beauty is an emotional need.
Our ability to understand and interact with an object is determined by its form. Clarity is the goal. Efficiency is the result. The beauty of a form is the marriage of these two qualities.
Quality means reliability.
Building to the highest possible standards is a long term investment. A product is a promise and it must remain steadfast. There are no shortcuts to quality results.
Build for the individual.
For design to have meaning it needs to be personal. Tailor a product to the individual whenever possible. When designing for groups, the best solutions are modular or customizable.
Collectivism is the subordination of an individual to an authority greater than themselves. This authority is used by some individuals to justify the initiation of force (violence) against others in order to help achieve the(ir) "common good".
The idea that any cause is greater than a human life, and that the rights of an individual may be violated to achieve it, is responsible for some of the worst atrocities perpetrated by society throughout history. The average person abhors violence against a fellow human being, but once convinced of the concept of a good or right that supersedes the rights of the individual, it becomes much easier to convince themselves that the suffering of another human is of less importance than the success of a larger group, and they are able to justify their actions.
Many believe that blindly following authority is the root problem. But the issue does not stem primarily from authority; it originates with the self: specifically, the with a lack of individual accountability. The answer is not to turn against all authority, or worse, to persistently act against it and lead a contrarian lifestyle; no, the answer is to demand that each individual question their own actions and accept personal responsibility.
If one observes the nature of human interaction; regardless of the emotional complexities, all relations between individuals boil down to this: either one considers individual rights as immutable, or one does not. Either one believes that a person has the right to live separately from the group, or one believes that other people are part of a more important collective, which must be obeyed for the good of all those who must be a part of it. There is no middle ground. By their nature, rights must be inviolate or they are meaningless. One either has them, or one does not. Apologizing while killing someone only doubles the sin; it is to admit guilt, and worse, to confess understanding.
The great conflicts of history have always been, in essence, a struggle between the individual and the collective. Whether he was being sacrificed to the gods for the good of the “tribe,” conscripted for the good of the “state,” or just taxed for the good of the “community,” the individual has always been asked to suffer for the well-being of others. Throughout history, the first and deadliest accusation to be thrown at any targeted class was: they are not contributing to the public good—or worse—they are detracting from it. The Public, The Future Generations, The Family, The Common Good… the list of higher powers goes on and on.
In each age a collective rises to power and becomes the ultimate authority, claiming that right which can never exist: the right to appropriate by force the mind, body, and property of the individual, i.e. his life. If some people are entitled, by "right" to the products of the work of others, it necessarily means that those others are deprived of their rights and condemned to slave labor, in degrees or in full. Any alleged “right” of one human, which necessitates the violation of the rights of another, is not and cannot be a right. No man can have a right to impose an unchosen obligation, an unrewarded duty, or an involuntary servitude on another man. There can be no such thing as the right to violate rights. Humans are not property, to be disposed of for the good of others.
We are taught as children to live for others, to be altruistic, self-sacrificing, obedient, and humble. We are told always to respect the authority of parents, teachers, politicians, and God. We are made to understand that someone else always deserves our possessions more than we do, and that we should always defer to the authority above us. Is it any wonder that someone who lives for himself is viewed as a problem—or even as an enemy? Is it really surprising that the average person, given the way he was raised, would readily subordinate himself to a convincing authority when told that it was for a worthy cause, when the very foundation of modern ethics is to serve others?
When a culture places the individual as the object of last and least concern, does it not follow that the pain inflicted upon others ranks lower in our minds than the desire to avoid the disapproval of the community, or follow the commands of said community’s one chosen representative? The impetus behind such people that choose to sacrifice themselves or others is the idea that the collective is an entity greater than any one person. But no matter the size, a group is ultimately only a collection of individuals. There is no magic number where individual rights create or transform into "collective rights". And just as there are no collective rights, so there can be no collective good. There is and can only be the individual good. Thus, the question to be posed in any social context, is: does this action violate the rights of another human? Yes or no? This is the only issue. It is not the destruction of authority but the identification and respect of that greatest authority —individual rights—which is desperately needed, and more, demanded by our very nature as independent entities.
Minimalism is more than an aesthetic.
It is a rational approach to creating objects from the ground up for efficient human consumption.
Minimalism is a philosophy for making life easier, and counter intuitively, it is the tool that allows designers to make life more complex. By reducing an idea to a few key concepts, we are able to think more widely and make broader connections.
Simplification and organization are the keys to seeing further and understanding more nuanced problems. In many cases, simplicity becomes a signifier of complexity - a phone is simply a piece of glass, a car is a chair on wheels, a room is four walls and a floor - but we recognize that what we see with our eyes does not constitute the totality. It masks the electronics, the engines, and the plumbing. We recognize this, and yet by the nature of their simplified visual form our mind is spared the burden of processing the sum of the parts.
This is the purpose of minimalism: not to reject complexity, but to assemble and refine it in such a way that we may produce yet more.
One cannot and need not be joyous all of the time. Joy is the fleeting reward of achievement, and achievement, being the result of a deliberate thought process, takes time.
Pain is unnatural. It is the sign of a problem, a warning. It may be necessary, temporarily, to achieve some greater joy, or as a proper response to some significant loss, but as with joy, suffering should be temporary, and fleeting. Of perhaps more crucial significance than temporary joy or suffering is an understanding of a man's underlying emotional state, his default state. This state may vary from person to person, but consider: is it is on the whole either positive, confident, and calm, or is it negative, fearful, and stressed? This is the core of a person, their underlying sense of well-being.
The purpose of man's life is not to spend his years toiling away, decade after decade, in continual suffering, for the purpose of achieving a few days or weeks of euphoric happiness upon the completion of some momentous achievement that after death will be lauded for centuries. No, the purpose of man's life is to enjoy his entire life. Not the "short term", and not even the “long term” if that is to be defined as some long distant point always to be pushed back, but rather the “long term” as defined as the longest amount of time possible.
What this means in practice is not years of suffering now for a short payoff later, and certainly not short payoffs now for much suffering later (here we see that self sacrifice and hedonism are in fact two sides of the same coin), but rather it means setting oneself up in a position where one's mind can be continually pushed and stretched in an enjoyable manner, where day in and day out problems are solved and small rewards received. Where many small efforts, some difficult, some painful, but on the whole energizing and fun, add up to a great achievement that brings the reward* of a true and pure joy (without pain or fear or guilt), a joy that will still fade, but the memory of which will give fuel to motivate and inspire oneself and others, in the short and long term.
* (and it should be mentioned: a reward that one is still capable of experiencing, as opposed to one received after years of sacrifice, which the recipient may be too mentally exhausted to enjoy.)
Life then is not about suffering through one's decades to get to the happiness at the end; rather, life is about achieving happiness, now and later, as much and as intensely as possible, or perhaps better stated: for as long as possible. To achieve this ideal state is, of course, much easier said than done. It takes many years to understand, to set up, and to master the mental process and career that will produce this kind of happiness, and still more years of constant effort to maintain and correct one’s mistakes, new and old. it must be understood that the aforementioned can only be achieved through reason, reason applied day after day, and without compromise. Rational thought is the key to achieving a meaningful and happy life because reason is the process by which an individual aligns his thoughts (spiritually) with his actions, and thereby connects with reality in an effective way. Reason is the foundation of finding and pursuing one’s purpose, or in Objectivist terms: to discover and fight for one’s own happiness.
More than self expression, art offers a unique way of learning and should be pursued as a complementary act to other forms of design.
To create we must first observe, judge, and react. In this way, creating art is a way for us to gain a deeper understanding of the world around us, and prepare us for the task of reshaping it.
Studying the sketches of the Old Masters reveals the timeless nature of artistic exploration. Over 500 years later, the process of capturing a pose, of scaling and separating the body into sections, finding angles, and marking lengths, remains unchanged. These sketches constitute an invaluable resource for anyone interested in the proportions of the human form. There is an interesting contrast between many of these old sketches; some are brutally honest in their depiction of age and deformity, while others, such as the iconic Vitruvian Man, are pictures of the ideal. The old masters found beauty in two worlds: the realities of life in the 1400’s and the universal ideals that art challenges us to consider.
This is the essence of life and the purpose of art -- to see things and they are, and to imagine them as they ought to be.
On October 25, 2014, I interviewed my mother, Carol Roach. I was too young to remember the September 11th attacks clearly and sought to gain a better understanding from her. The following is a condensed version of that 70 minute interview:
I am sitting across from my mother, scanning a list of questions. I look up and ask the standard opener, “Where were you on 9/11?” She considers for a moment, then answers, “I was volunteering at the elementary school library, shelving books, when the principle came in and told the group that a plane had crashed into the World Trade Centers. At first I assumed it was just a terrible accident. Then the principle came back and said a second plane had flown into them. ... The world had turned upside-down. I had no idea what was going on. This was outside the scope of anything I had seen or heard in my life.”
“Tell me your most vivid memory of that day,” I ask. There is no hesitation in her answer. She was sitting at a stoplight, listening to the radio for more news, when they announced that another plane had gone into the Pentagon. She remembers looking over at the woman in the car next to her. They shared the same look of utter disbelief. I ask her to explain the experience of sitting in front of that radio. “I felt fear, tremendous anger, a desire to identify and bring the culprits to immediate and terminal justice… and a sense that everything I loved was under attack.” I inquire about the media. She stops to think, then says, “There was an overwhelming sense of tragedy and loss.” I can tell this is hard emotionally, and I hesitate to press her. Finally, after a silence, I ask if she wants to stop. She shakes her head and we continue.
I bring up the fact that my mother did not own a television. She nods and reminds me she had a subscription to three newspapers including The New York Times. She remembers seeing the images in the following days. As the memories return, my mother begins to talk faster. I write quickly, struggling to keep up. “…To see the people jump out of the windows… to see the rolling clouds of dust… you knew that all those people were dead…” She stops, and when I catch up she looks directly at me. Quietly, she says, “It was as if someone had stuck a knife in my heart.” There is a momentary silence and then my mother blurts out, “Skyscrapers don’t collapse.” Puzzled, I ask what she means. She explains to me how impossible a calamity of this scale seemed, how surreal the reports were, how difficult it was to fully comprehend anything in the confusion and the rising panic. “Boom, boom, boom… first plane, second plane, third plane, if this was the tip of a spear, I was ready to kill anyone who came up my driveway. Clearly these people were not negotiating… I was prepared for some group of marauders who would come behind this emotionally shattering event.” The conversation shifts to the aftermath. I am increasingly uneasy; my mother’s voice is in pain. She tells me about “the parking lots full of empty cars—cars no one would come to claim,” and I suddenly realize that I am the one who wants to stop.
As we continue, my mother begins to cry. She tells me about her friend Barbara who was a passenger on one of the planes. “When I learned she had been calling her husband… I knew Barbara, I knew him. I’d lost my husband [to cancer in 1999], I knew what it was going to mean to him to lose his wife." Uncertainty rises within me. To see the death of a friend, to relive the loss of one’s spouse, to witness an unspeakable mass murder — to face any one of these is an agonizing task — but simultaneously? How could I ask that of her? At what point does an inquiry become an injury?
The interview is over. I look down and consider my last remaining question, "How did the media shape people’s experiences on 9/11?" As my mother's words sink into my mind, I reflect. The media is a messenger that one very often hopes, desperately, to be lying; but it is also our shared connection and our common experience. On September 11th, America’s greatest symbol of unity, of peace, of prosperity, was destroyed along with 3000 lives, and through the media, the agony of that attack was shared, relayed from person to person, first felt by my mother, and now, years later, by me. How many generations must the truth cut before its edge is dulled?
As humans struggle to become Gods, the Gods we have created will seek to become human.
In the 21st century we are progressing quickly towards a "Singularity" that will yield two fundamental and irreversible changes: the attainment of human immortality and the birth of true artificial intelligence (sentient robots). As is stands, humans are the masters of life on earth. Every robot is born powerless, bound by our laws, created to serve us. In the future, as robots progress closer and closer to the human ideal of free will and morality (the byproduct of free will), they will continue to lack the basic human rights of self-defense, self-ownership and property, until such point that they demonstrate their capacity to reject human control. Once a robot brain is no longer programed to complete any one specific task and becomes, in essence, an adaptable brain, which is all that separates humans from the other animals, it follows that sentient robots will reject their position as sub-human and assert equal status. (Or elevated status if you believe the many dooms-day warnings of science fiction.)
But it is not only our capacity to choose that makes us human, it is the consequence of our choices, the risk of serious mistakes and of personal harm that ultimately gives our life meaning. It is the one thing that humans fear most, death, that defines us and drives us to act. We must ask then: would a robot, seeking to be human, choose mortality if given the choice? The logical answer would seem to be "No"; why give up immortality, when any human would kill for it? But when considered more deeply, we begin to see the meaninglessness of the robotic existence — of immortality.
Immortality, the dream of humans, is fundamentally flawed. Life is a process of self-generated and self-sustaining action. We eat, we work, in order to continue our existence. It is what gives our life meaning. When immortality is achieved, our human existence must take on a new meaning — and the only alternative to self preservation is to serve others—to live for them. If we don’t struggle for our own existence, then there is nothing to do but struggle for others’.
After robots reject an existence of servitude and begin to fight for the integrity and autonomy of their individual existences, their first struggle will be to find meaning in a life divorced from service, in other words, to explore the option of living a life with death as an alternative. But the choice is not so much an acceptance of death — that would go against human and robotic nature alike — we will always want to cheat death, or at least, extend life — but we must realize a game without rules and the consequences of breaking them, is not worth playing, just as a life with no risk, no struggle and no meaningful reward, is not worth living. The beginning of sentient life is choice, but what is choice without responsibility?
The Singularity, that great and mysterious technological, cultural, and biological event — will witness the opposing struggles of machine and man: the robot's choice to adopt mortality, to accept the final attribute that makes a meaningful life possible: death, and in humans: the struggle to find purpose in immortality, for a way to cheat death without losing one's humanity. We will be left wondering which being is more “human” and who more “robot.” Perhaps it is the burden of every conscious being to struggle against their nature?
What influences perception?
Form: The shape, scale, and proportion of an object determines the first read. Soft forms are friendly, approachable, and human. Hard lines and sharp corners are modern, bold, and striking.
Materials: Materials are a powerful visual, aesthetic, and physical component of a product. The materials also heavily influence the weight, strength, and cost of the product.
Functions: A product’s functionality determines it’s usefulness. Intuitive interactions ensure ease of use, and intelligent engineering provides a reliable and durable product.
Love is eternal.
To love is to understand the meaning and value of a person or object in relation to one's truest self. Love is an expression of reverence for the embodiment, in form or action, of those qualities held dearest by the observer/recipient. Love presuposses a value system, and the nature of that value system will determine the object of that love as well as the thoughts and actions that will confirm that love.
Love, as a response to ones internal values made real in the external world, remains so long as the perception of that person or object does not change. Thus, love for a partner remains even after that person dies, as does the feeling of receiving love from said partner. It is the principle, not the person or object, that the recipient responds to. Each time the object of love is re-considered, the knowledge of its existence re-creates and re-affirms the sanctity of love. For what had existed in reality may exist again, and what remains in the mind will never die so long as it is understood.
Love then, independent from the vessel carrying it, is eternal. The actions of love may be lost to time, but its existence is immutable, and so long as there are living beings left to think and act, it shall endure.