Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Everyone seems to be training to be a truck driver


For me at least, my first exposure to the Bell curve was hearing about the placement of the various races of human beings on the curve of IQ. It has become increasingly apparent to me that this type of curve, which, not being a mathematician I would describe as a section of a sine curve, perhaps with some modifiers, can actually be used to illustrate just about anything, particularly when you realise that the factors generating each curve lag another, discrete and separate set of events.

"Wow! Everyone seems to be training to be a truck driver!" is therefore nearing the apex of the bell curve for number of people taking truck driver lessons, and while the initial reaction to this may well be "ooh, it must be a boom area, maybe I should get into it." (you can of course substitute "nurse" or anything else for "truck driver") the considered reaction should be "there is a sign of an impending surplus in the market".

The reasons are fairly simple, the rising demand curve for truck drivers starts to generate a phase delayed rising curve of truck driver students, and as long as the demand curve is a positive number, the lagging phase of the driver training curve is also going to be positive, in an electronic circuit we know this as an amplifier, there is an inherent "gain" built into the system by the lag in phase between demand and supply.

Of course, in a *practical* amplifier circuit we will also have a feedback loop...
Back in the day, when computers were much less complex and my limited by talent and dyslexia programming abilities were sufficient to code a graphical biorhythm plotter, I stumbled upon one of the interesting things about harmonics.

We had a 23 day physical cycle, a 28 day emotional cycle, and a 33 day intellectual cycle. Now it doesn't matter if these cycles are complete crap or right on the money, the interesting point is this, if you start all three cycles on the day of your birth, it will take some (from memory) 30+ odd years before the whole average of all three plot returns to its original position.

Now this is a *hugely* simple and orderly initial data set, yet it is generating a remarkably complex curve, simply by averaging all three, which takes decades to run a full cycle. Substitute "demand for truck drivers" + "relative appeal of truck driving compared to other available work at that time" + "supply of truck driving school places" and we can see that NONE of these have nice fixed cyclic periods, so while we will still get a remarkably complex curve out of them, there is no basis to assume that it will ever reset or return to the point of origin and repeat the cycle, moreover, each of these input variables are themselves the product of other ongoing relationships.

Computationally the problem is ferociously complex, and by far the best and most accurate way to model it is to simply treat the actual object as the model and observe it in real time. We graduate and mature from being Mathematicians, trying to accurately plot and model these ferociously complex cycles, to Philosophers, accepting that the underlying truth is the existence of these cycles... a tree has growth rings, we cannot predict accurately how thick or thin each of the next ten rings will be mathematics, but philosophically we know there will be ten rings, and allow that there might be a Krakatoa event making one of those rings so feebly delineated from its neighbours that there are for all intents and purposes nine rings instead of ten, but there will still be rings.

As a human being approaching half a century on this planet, I understand that the ageing and gathering experience with age process tends to move us along the line from mathematician to philosopher, it takes a lot of data to reach the critical point when you can start to philosophise, and until you get there you're stuck with the mathematical approach of playing the numbers.

As a younger mathematician type I would observe the plethora of truck driving schools buzzing about and think it was a bandwagon that I should maybe consider hitching a ride on, as an older philosopher type I observe the plethora of truck driving schools and consider that lean times are ahead for truck drivers, as supply rapidly overtakes demand.

It's the bell curve thing, you really need to get into whatever it is (computing maybe?) at the bottom of the curve, somewhere near the meadows, and then you need to do what I didn't do with respect to computing, you need to embrace it like the new messiah, mind, body and soul, instead of aimlessly wandering around with your path denoted by interesting and pretty things.... and then you need to get OUT of whatever it is when it seems like it is booming, long before the curve starts to plateau, and look for the next valley.

Only trouble with this is it's like biorhythms, you get maybe 3 cycles in a human lifetime, and it takes maybe 1.5 cycles before you become philosopher enough to realise that there are cycles, and like the surfer positioning yourself on the rising wave uses the wave energy, not yours, to move you.

The Norse peoples used to name themselves by whose loins they issued from, Lars' son, whereas my Anglo Saxon heritage tended to name themselves by what they did to earn a living, Smith, or perhaps where they came from, my youngest, nearly a year old now, carries a surname that reflects his genetic heritage of scores of generations of hard rock miners, he's already showing quite distinct and distinguishing traits of sinewy strength, and his first names are taken from his grandfather and great grandfather, a boy's got to know where he comes from, like the past rings in the tree, it's the only thing you can depend on as a frame of reference.

My dad didn't give me much advice, I now realise, he taught me an incredible amount, but that can be classed as skills, not ideas, as I get older the philosopher in me takes over from the mathematician, and I realise he too was a philosopher, he knew you could only teach the kid how to (figuratively speaking) build a decent surfboard and some basic hydraulics, you can't plan the sea state in advance, and let nature take its course. Leaving your child equipped to deal with whatever the cycles bring was the most you could do.

I'm in the same boat as mentor to kids and young adults, much of the time I say nothing, because there is no point, holding their hands will only teach them to be dependent, and making their own mistakes and hopefully learning is the only way they will get from being mathematicians willing to play the odds on insufficient data to philosophers who haven't already bankrupted themselves while mathematicians...

Society as a whole is just adding millions of extra basic data sets to our biorhythm curves, the added complexity is a problem for the mathematician, the persistence of cyclic events irrespective of the base complexity is the basis for the philosopher.
Will we have another Great Depression?

The mathematician will reach for the spreadsheet and try to analyse the data, furiously industrious, in an attempt to beat all the other mathematicians.
The philosopher will know that sooner or later it is inevitable, and float out there amongst the swells on his home made surfboard, chatting amiably to to other philosophers, enjoying what they can out of life, and waiting for the next big wave.

By way of a post script, one of my first and longest lasting handles / domains, which I only let lapse when I became philosopher enough to realise that DNS is a mathematicians solution, was Surfbaud, this was about 1994, I'd heard the term "surfing" from America, in the BBS days, 9.6k, and it clicked that if you wanted to "surf" you needed "baud", about two weeks later I saw a Motorola advert "How can you surf without your baud" (which google returns zero hits for) and so it kinda stuck.

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