On ideas

There are two kinds of ideas.* There are ideas that other people should do and there are ideas you do yourself.

Everyone has lots of ideas for other people. Advice is nearly free; it’s easy to spend other people’s time and money. It’s even easier to spend the public’s.

Ideas for yourself have a more rigorous filter. What can I do? Well, I can easily write a blog post. But as they say, talk is cheap.

I might think the US should explore Mars, but unless I am a multi-billionaire,** there is not a lot I can do on my own to push that forward. Even if I were, or donated to the Mars Society, I am still not the astronaut or engineer or mechanic or factory worker who makes it all possible.

But idea generation should not be all “put up or shut up”. I still might have a useful idea for you (I am convinced I do, as a professor of ideas and doctor of philosophy, when asked what I do, I say “I profess”), that is better than the idea you have for yourself.

I do have a useful idea for you,  you should definitely discount other people’s ideas about how to spend your time and efforts, only you can prioritize for yourself.


* There are two kinds of people, those who divide the world into two kinds of people and those who don’t.

** Or as Howard Schultz would say, person with multiple billions of dollars.

Origins and Destiny

In English transportation-speak, the opposite of origin is destination. Why?

from Latin origo (“beginning, source, birth, origin”) from oriri (“to rise”); see orient.
"The beginning of something. The source of a river, information, goods, etc."


from Latin dēstinātiōnem, from dēstināre (“to destine”) - To intend or mean.
"Purpose for which anything is destined; predetermined end, object, or use; ultimate design.
The place set for the end of a journey, or to which something is sent; place or point aimed at."

Destiny comes

from Old French destinee.
That to which any person or thing is destined; a predetermined state; a condition foreordained by the Divine or by human will; fate; lot; doom.
The fixed order of things; invincible necessity; fate; an irresistible power or agency conceived of as determining the future, whether in general or of an individual.

The opposite of Orient is Occident, yet we don’t speak of Origins and Occidens.
Occidēns in Latin has the connotation of “falling down (of heavenly bodies), going down, setting, perishing, dying, passing away being lost, being undone, being ruined”. Perhaps that is too permanent. One does not return from Occidens, but it seems one cannot undo one’s destiny either.

Public Participation and Planning

Americas Most Wanted Painting“It’s really hard to design products by focus groups. A lot of times, people don’t know what they want until you show it to them.”
Steve Jobs, quoted in BusinessWeek, May 25 1998.(Nine years before the iPhone and 12 years before the iPad).
The painting on the right is the satirical product of artists (Komar and Melamid) who set about designing in response to customer’s preferences in art. The survey suggested people like blue, traditional, realistic art of outdoor scenes including bodies of water in autumn. Similar paintings were constructed for multiple countries.

The painting of course is at best cromulent.


The point is, we have gone too far in planning in asking for public input. The public does not have the time or expertise to productively weigh in on most issues, which is why we have representative government, division of labor, and experts.

The public that does weigh in is atypical, often retired, and inherently conservative in their tastes. Trying to adhere to the public’s wishes results in mediocre designs, and an unwillingness to try to new ideas that are unfamiliar (simultaneously opposed because it will be successful and move traffic too well, or failing and result in too much delay).

Trolley problem

From Wikipedia, transportation and philosophy: The Trolley Problem in honor of the late Philippa Foot.

A trolley is running out of control down a track. In its path are five people who have been tied to the track by a mad philosopher. Fortunately, you could flip a switch, which will lead the trolley down a different track to safety. Unfortunately, there is a single person tied to that track. Should you flip the switch or do nothing?