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Cynical Idealism and “The Barrier”

August 17, 2014 by · Leave a Comment 

ArthurTornIn many of the scenes in “The Barrier”, my hero, Arthur Macdonald comes across as a cynic, while in others he acts quite idealistic. I’ve come to think of his attitude as Cynical Idealism. I believe this must be a part of my own world view.

Initially, when he works on the development review project, Arthur talks as if he feels that the politicians and developers have self serving motives. For example, he seems to believe that the developer, Vincent Campbell, is interested only in his own good. Arthur accepts that Campbell has great influence over the politicians. He appears to accept that situation and even characterizes the work as playing a game.

With the traffic barrier project however, Arthur is more clearly idealistic in his approach. Repeated warnings from his boss do not cause him to give up on the project. He actively approaches other to recruit their support. He continues to look for ways to convince his boss to support the project.

One explanation for the contrast between the two projects may be the potential results of the two projects. The worst that can happen as a result of the development review project is that it will cost tax payers money. The worst that can happen with the traffic barrier is that people will die. This could be seen as a cognitive bias Arthur’s part.

Later in the movie, Arthur acts more idealistically on the development review project. As the project unfolds, he tries harder to defeat Campbell’s ambitions. Although, this could be seen as an emotional reaction to the abuse he gets from Campbell.

My initial interpretation is that Arthur has an internal conflict between cynicism and idealism. While he has become a cynic at the intellectual level, he still remains an idealist at the emotional level. In this view, Arthur began as an idealist, but his experience has convinced him to adopt a cynical attitude. This transition is not complete, and in the end may never be fully realized.

My final interpretation is that, while Arthur has accepted a cynical view of people and their motives, he still thinks of them in idealistic terms. That means that he still believes that he can accomplish his idealistic goals despite the base motives of others. He feels that he can even count on those base motives in order to reach his goals. A clear example comes near the end when he hopes that self interest on the part of the mayor will help him defeat Campbell. This is what I call Cynical Idealism.

Arthur’s mentor Ling Pang has an attitude similar to his Cynical Idealism. In her case though, she has allowed cynicism to play a larger role. That said, she still has a core sense of idealism that, at times, drives her forward.

Arthur’s colleague Denis Kennedy is more purely an idealist. He becomes very angry when he sees Campbell act in a self serving way. In fact, Denis’ idealism could be what pushes Arthur to become more idealistic later in the movie.

Arthur’s boss Brandon Baker is more purely a cynic. He tires to discourage Arthur’s idealism. Brandon is not a total cynic though, like when he back Arthur against Campbell  over the need for a traffic impact study. On the other hand, Brandon might just be going through the motions.

I can see the three other characters as representatives of Arthur’s internal struggle. Brandon as the cynical side, Denis as the idealistic side and Ling as the attempt to integrate the two. This insight may help me add more depth to the characters and story when I prepare the final version of the movie.

You can watch the preliminary version of “The Barrier” here: When the final version becomes available, it will be found on the same page.

When Evaluation Misleads

August 10, 2014 by · Leave a Comment 


I don’t agree that people can only succeed if they have an inborn talent. I believe that it is possible for anyone to be more successful. A recent article prompted me to give this idea more thought.

“Secrets of amazing teachers: What both sides of the education reform debate get wrong about autonomy and accountability” was posted on the Slate website.

While it is about teaching, I think many of the ideas in this article apply more broadly; for example: in my own field of transportation planning. In particular my interest was the use of tests and measurements to rate teachers.

Testing and Rating

Tests are often used to rate people on their abilities. Unfortunately, many people use a poor rating as an excuse to do nothing, or worse, to punish the person for their failure. I think our focus should be on how to improve people’s performance. Tests should be used to identify opportunities for improvement. While someone may be poor at something now, there are ways that they can improve.

This seems very obvious to me, and I find it hard to understand why others would reject that view.

I suspect that when someone looks narrowly at their own immediate self interest, then an improvement in someone else’s chances for success, is a threat to their own chances for success. People who have succeeded through luck or a privileged position are more likely to feel this way.

In contrast, when someone looks at the situation with a broader, societal, point of view, then they see how other people success can make society better. A world full of successful people is a better place than a world full of failures.

The 10,000 Rule

The 10,000 rule, which says that people need 10,000 hours of practice before they become top performers. This is often attributed to Malcolm Gladwell, although in his book he makes it clear he is just reporting what others have found.

What is often lost in the discussion is that 10,000 hours is an average; for particular individuals it can vary widely from the average. It can be as few as 4,000 hours for some people. While the length of time can vary, the important point is that it is not zero. If talent was all there was, then it would be unnecessary to put in any time. All who succeed do so because of the time they spend on learning and practicing. Some people may start with an advantage, due to genetics and life circumstance, but they still need that time to reach their potential.

Although I don’t recall that Gladwell said so explicitly, but the 10,000 hours is not just any kind of practice. It is mentored practice. Their practice is directed by more experienced people who also encourage them,  point out areas where they can improve, and give them advice. It is the feedback they get that helps them learn and develop their skills.

There is a danger that people will assume that people’s failure is a result of their unwillingness to “put in their 10,000 hours.” I think this would be a mistake. In many of the stories in Gladwell book, what makes the difference is whether or not people have the opportunity to get mentored practice. Without a capable mentor to show the way, extra practice helps little.

As an aside, if you want to evaluate teachers to separate the “good” from the “bad”, you need to be aware that it can take a decade, or longer, for a teacher to gain 10,000 hours of experience. It could well take a decade before you can identify “bad” teachers with any confidence. Many teachers don’t even stay that long in the profession.

More to Come?

I looked at this issue before, in my blog post “Transportation Planning and “Bad” Teachers”. (See: )

I feel strongly about these issues and want to find ways to share my views more effectively. So far, I haven’t come up with a way to do that in a story.

I am not finished with these thoughts and I want to dig deeper. Maybe that will bring some inspiration.

“Felix” and “The Barrier”

August 3, 2014 by · Leave a Comment 

Magpie_and_FriendI worked on both “Felix” and “The Barrier” this week. The “Felix” rewrite progressed well, but with “The Barrier” it just seemed like I spun my wheels. I still would call it a productive week though.

“Felix” Rewrite

I tried my new approach with “Felix” this week. I printed off the most recent version, then sat out in the back yard, went through the printout and made my revisions. I got about a quarter of the way through. I thought this approach worked and I felt positive about the revisions I made.

Later in the story I have some sections that I will likely have to completely replace. I may even need to add totally new material. That will take a bit longer. I think that I will need to go through the whole story at least one more time before I’m done this revision. It should be ready to share with other people then.

One of the problems I have noticed is some of the technology the astronauts use on Mars seems outdated. I can’t mix 2020′s technology with 1960′s technology. For example, I gave the rover a considerable level of autonomy, but the astronaut’s have to drive their own vehicle. I can fix much of that fairly easily, since the technology is mostly in the background. Unfortunately, some of it is tied to major plot points.

I thought it would be enjoyable to sit outside and listen to the birds as I worked. Unfortunately, we only seem to have crows and magpies around here, so not much in the way of  beautiful songs. The chattering of the squirrels sounded better, but after what they did to our garden, it’s hard to feel too kindly toward them. I did find it more restful to be outside though.

“The Barrier”

I did some more research on one of the programs I want to use to do “The Barrier”. I used up a lot of time, but I can’t say I have much to show for it. I can say I did learn more about what it can do. I can’t really get too far along with the new version until Xtranormal is rereleased.

I’ve given some thought to what I’ll do with the movie when I get it done. My current plan is to use a site like to distribute the movie. There are several sites that look similar, so I should do some more investigation before I sign up for one.

I believe that this is the first movie ever made specifically about transportation planning, so I need to promote it transportation planners. There might not be much of an audience beyond people who work in the field.

I’ve done some posts on a few LinkedIn transportation planning groups, but I think I need to look at other options. There are a number of transportation planning magazines, newsletters and journals. I don’t think they would have movie reviewers, but I still think I should approach them.

I could use some contacts at these outlets. If you can help me I would appreciate it.


Mid-Year Review of My Goals for 2014

July 26, 2014 by · Leave a Comment 

rewritepageAt the start of this year I laid out my goals for 2014. With the year more than half gone now, I thought it was time to review and revise my goals. This year hasn’t been as productive as last year.


I set the rewrite of “Felix” as my top priority for the year. I thought that would take me a couple of months. While I have done some work on it, I am nowhere near a completed rewrite.

I must admit that it isn’t a very original idea. It began as a rewrite of a H. P. Lovecraft story. Although, as I worked on it, it did drift away from the original story. I don’t want to do a bad imitation of Lovecraft.

I have been very erratic in my work habits, which I think is the main reason I make so little progress. I need to get into a writing routine. That is a mater of will power.

Sometimes I find it easier to write in long hand rather than on the computer. I’m not sure why, but it feels more creative.

“The Barrier” / Replace Xtranormal

The primary barrier to my work on “The Barrier” was the discontinuation of Xtranormal, the program I used to create it. Xtranormal does seem about to return, but hasn’t been rereleased yet (see I don’t want to put much effort into the project until I know for sure that I can continue to use Xtranormal, or a compatible program.

I have done some work with Blender (see: to animate some scenes that I can’t do very well in Xtranormal. There are a couple of scenes that I can do that way with out Xtranormal that I think would improve the movie and it may be worthwhile to do that to give me more of a final version of “The Barrier”.

A movie about transportation planners does have a small audience, so I can’t expect to redo it as a even a low budget movie. Best to stick with Xtranormal, if I can.

I will hold off on this project for now and see what develops.

“My Most Difficult Case”

I think I have left this project too long for any serious chance of getting a sale. Even when I contacted a distributor five years ago, they thought it was almost too old to get a sale. I’m inclined to do a quick fix up and post it on-line.

I’d like to try out one of those pay-per-view sites. I want to do that with the final version of “The Barrier”, so I want to get my feet wet. “My Most Difficult Case” might be the film to try. Hopefully, I can avoid some missteps later with “The Barrier”.

“Bright Freedom”

I have thought about this project from time to time, but I don’t see that I’ll do anything on it any time soon. It is hard to write a story where the protagonist is a woman and you’ve never been one.

“Pete’s Plan”

I submitted this story to several Science Fiction magazines in 2013. I thought it was good enough to get published, but no one was interested. One person that read said that it seemed to be more of a treatment than a story. It is short, about 1,000 words, but it says all I want to say. I planned to submit it to other magazines, but held off on that.

As I’ve thought about it, I think it would be better to rewrite it as a first person narrative. It would force me to focus more on the hero and how he feels as he executes his plan. What I have now may be too detached from the character.

Other Projects

Over the year a number of other ideas have popped up in my head. I usually write up the idea for later. Sometimes I forget the idea before I get that done. I think some of these ideas have a lot of potential, but I don’t want to delve into them until I get a few of my current projects put to bed.

One idea I’ve toyed with is another “transportation planning adventure” story. I’ve come up with some ideas and would like to move on with it. I plan to write it as a story, and if things work out, I would develop it into another movie like “The Barrier”.

My Priorities

My first priority is to get back into a writing routine. Even an hour a day will help me accomplish something, if I keep it up consistently.

My second priority will be to finish off the rewrite of “Felix” and get some feedback.

My third priority will be to finish off “My Most Difficult Case”, post it and promote it.

After that, it will depend on what happens with Xtranormal. If it is available, I would like to do a new version of “The Barrier”. Otherwise I would work on the rewrites of “Bright Freedom” or “Pete’s Plan”.

I will also allow myself to go with the flow when the spirit moves me on other projects.

Writing Formulas and Artistic Expression

July 20, 2014 by · Leave a Comment 

I am interested in writing formulas, but I know others look down on them. I believe that formulas can help writers be more creative.

A while back I read an article on-line, no idea where now, about formulas. The author was very anti-formula. He talked about Michael Moorcock’s ” how to write a novel in three days”, which also mentions Lester Dent’s Master Plot Formula.

This link has a description of both of these:

The writer disparaged the whole “pulp fiction” approach to writing. He said that good writers don’t do “pulp writing”. What caught my eye was his examples of good writers: H. P. Lovecraft, Dashiell Hammett, Raymond Chandler and Ray Bradbury. I wondered if he had his tongue in cheek because all these writers started writing for pulp magazines.

What this illustrates for me is that use of a writing formula is not a barrier to artistic expression. I found formulas helpful in my writing, although I wouldn’t claim to be a successful writer artistically or financially.

The comparison I think of is poetry, and specifically the sonnet. Sonnets follow a very strict format. The number of lines, the lengths of the lines and the rhyming scheme are set out. This has not stopped many poets from creating many great sonnets over the years.

Formulas do place constraints on a story, but writers, like poets, can see these as opportunities for creativity. A formula can allow a writer to focus on the deeper parts of the story and not the superficial plot.

I haven’t really used a formula to help my creativity to any great extent. In my transportation stories, “The Gladstone Barrier” and “The Glencoe Development”, I did extend the formula by substitution verbal arguments for physical violence. When I converted these stories into my movie “The Barrier” I didn’t stick to the formula.

I suspect that all stories use a formula, but that the more sophisticated writers develop a formula for the one story and never use it again. Since it never gets reused, nobody thinks of it as a formula.

“The Journal of Transportation Fiction”

July 13, 2014 by · Leave a Comment 

The Journal of Transportation Fiction

A friend who watched my movie “The Barrier” commented that established genres, like mysteries, have well established stock characters and situations that people are familiar with. Few people have that kind of familiarity with transportation planning. That makes it harder to connect with the audience.

With “The Barrier” (see: I have tried to create a new story genre. That does create a challenge for me when I try to communicate to the potential audience.

In any genre there are stock characters and situations that people are familiar with. For example, in a mystery story there is the detective, the victim, the client and the villain. The role of the detective is clear, they catch the bad guy. The detective follows is a set procedure to achieve that goal.

In a transportation fiction story, the audience would not know who is the hero and who is the villain. Is the transportation engineer a good guy or a bad guy? What is he or she supposed to accomplish? Writers want some ambiguity and depth to their characters to intrigue the reader. However, if there is too much, the audience will just be confused.

I have thought of a number of ways to over come the communication challenge. I believe that I need to build an audience who are attuned to the genre. Unless I reach beyond the transportation planning community, the potential audience is too small to support a project like “The Barrier”.

One idea that continues to come up in my thoughts is to create an on-line “zine” to publish and promote transportation planning fiction. It doesn’t look like it would be a hard thing to do technically. The difficult part is to attract people who want to read, and write, transportation planning fiction.

I have had a few people contact me in connection with “The Barrier” about their experiences that would make for good stories. At the time I didn’t want to follow up on those suggestions because of potential copyright and liability problems. If I created a “zine”, I would need to work those out. While my main interest is to promote my movies and stories, I need to see that other contributors get what they want out of the venture as well.

I can see problems with paying contributors, especially when there is no certainty of adequate revenue. I would likely need to do quite a bit of editing of submissions; and I’m not the greatest writer in the history of the world by any stretch of the imagination.

The one aspect I have worked out to my satisfaction is the title: “The Journal of Transportation Fiction”. It is a play on the titles of typical technical journals. On the other hand, Bent Flyvbjerg might say there is already too much transportation fiction.

If you, or someone you know, would like to pursue this idea, please get in touch with me. If there is enough interest, we might just make a go of it.

Blender Experiments for “The Barrier”

July 6, 2014 by · Leave a Comment 

GladstoneCurve2I want to redo the opening scene of my transportation planner movie “The Barrier” because people don’t seem to understand what happens in it. Although Xtranormal is supposed to be rereleased, I don’t think I use it to do what I want to do in this scene. I think I can do it with Blender. I started a trial version this week. (see

In the first scene of “The Barrier”, my hero, Arthur, drives along a rural road and narrowly avoids a traffic collision.

My first step is to create the set. I used Blender to create another set I used in the movie, but it was a much simpler set to create. The set was basically a box with some images on the walls. The new set is more complex and I’ll need to create several different types of elements.

  • a road, that twists and turns,
  • a ground on either side of the road with hills and valleys, and
  • trees along the side of the road.

I might add a few more elements later to make the set look more realistic. I don’t want a photo realistic set. It needs to look a bit cartoony to match the rest of the movie.

For the most part, I focussed on the road way this week. I thought it would be the simplest to do. It would also be easier to conform the surrounding land  to match the road, rather than the other way round.

I started with a Blender file that I used to create an image of the Glencoe development in the movie. It had a grass “ground” and some roads. I had to relearn how to manipulate the individual points of the plane meshes. I managed to stubble on how to do it fairly quickly. I don’t normally check the manual before I do this kind of stuff.

In order to have a curvy road, I needed to have it split into segments, so I could manipulate individual points. I found how to subdivide, but it split both ways, so I had a 20 by 20 grid, and not the 1 by 20 grid I wanted. I’m sure there must be an easy way to do this, but I went ahead and deleted the individual faces I didn’t want until I had the 1 by 20 mesh I wanted. I made several copies, just in case.

I had to figure out where I wanted to put the individual points, so most of my time was spend calculating where they should be. I studied roadway design back in University, but I really don’t remember much. I tossed my class notes about 10 years ago as well. I decided that it didn’t need to be technically correct, it just had to look OK.

My first attempt failed. I tried to create a layout that matched the one I used elsewhere in the movie. That turned out to have some very difficult geometry and I found it hard to match. For my second attempt, I started from scratch and made all my turns multiples of 45º. That made the calculations much simpler.

Another issue that came up was that the section of road was too short for what I wanted to do. In scale it was only about 50 metres long! I adjusted that to 1 kilometre, so I can track Arthur driving along the road for longer. I had to redo the calculations. Again.

I finally got back to Blender and built the road there. I misjudged how many segments I needed in the roadway and it came up short. I decided that since this was originally planned as an experiment, that would be good enough. The proportions of the road didn’t look right and I found it difficult to image. In the end I realized that I had used the wrong scale and it was far larger than I intended. I adjusted that down. I wonder if I can cut down the length of the road from a full kilometre and have it look better.

I tried to match the grass patches I had to the roadway, but it seems that the individual points are specified as deviations from the centre of the plane. That makes it much harder to match up with the road. It seems to me that there must be some kind of setting so you can use a local or global co-ordinate system. I haven’t found it yet.

While I was disappointed at how little I accomplished on the set, I still think it was worthwhile because I learned much more about how to use Blender.

Should I create my own conspiracy Theory? The Other Earth Conspiracy.

June 29, 2014 by · Leave a Comment 

The Other EarthI’ve had an interest in conspiracy theories for a long time, even though I am very sceptical about them in general. I’ve been tempted to create my own conspiracy theory for fun and profit. I’ve hesitated to do that because I was afraid that people might take it seriously.

Years ago I got interested in the Kennedy assassination conspiracy theories. At first I kept an open mind, but, as I learned more about the theories, I began to think they were just too implausible to be true. My thoughts on the conspiracy theory led me to make my movie “Who Shot the President”.

“Who Shot the President” resulted in more threats than money, but more people have watched that than any of my other movies. I didn’t like the threats, but I could see that there was a great deal of interest in the topic. Like any other filmmaker, I do want to find an audience and there is clearly one that looks for conspiracy theories.

In the past I hesitated to pursue conspiracy theories in my movies for a couple of reasons.

First, I don’t want to trick people to get them to watch my movies. To me, that seems very dishonest. If I take that route I would feel I have abandoned the reasons that I wanted to make movies in the first place. It wasn’t just to make money, although that would be nice. I wanted to say something of value.

Second, I worry that some people might take my conspiracy theory seriously. Even some very outrageous conspiracy theories have their adherents. Even if presented as broad satire, some people will still want to believe.

Despite these concerns I’ve developed a fake conspiracy theory.

The Other Earth Conspiracy

A conspiracy needs a good name, to catch people’s attention. The theory is about NASA, but I can’t call it the NASA Conspiracy, because there are already plenty of conspiracies about NASA. For now I’ll call it The Other Earth Conspiracy. That sounds lame to me, but maybe I can come up with a better name later.

The theory is based on some strange behaviours on the part of NASA. I’ve listed those below.

1. NASA has begun to search for other earths

NASA has for the last 20 or so years supported the research of astronomers in their search for extra solar planets. They have a website devoted to this work:
“Planet Quest – The Search for Another Earth” at

While the stated reason for this research is scientific curiosity, the question that comes to mind is, “What is the big rush?” After all, it may be millennia before we could ever actually visit them.

2. NASA has developed plans for a warp drive space ship

Most of us of heard of warp drive from the “Star Trek” TV programs and movies. They use warp drive as a plot device to get the characters from one solar system to another quickly so the crew can have a new adventure every week.

The idea seems like a pretty far out science fiction invention. However, NASA has designed a space ship that uses warp drive. See: “NASA Reveals Latest Warp-Drive Ship Designs” at

As with the search for another earth, we have to ask the question, “What is the big rush?” So far as we know, no one has even demonstrated that warp drive is even possible.

3. NASA has wasted a lot of money

In recent years it seems like every one criticises NASA for inefficiency, mismanagement, and waste. Here are a few samples:

GAO: True Cost of SLS, Orion Unclear
More Wasteful EPO Spending at NASA
NASA: James Webb Space Telescope to Now Cost $8.7 Billion
$4 billion over budget, four years past schedule: Meet Northrop’s problem program

What is odd, is that NASA used to have a very good reputation. Remember, who else besides NASA has promised the Moon and delivered?

What happened to NASA? Now it seems like they can’t even do anything without massive cost over runs. Can that really be true?

One begins to wonder, “Are these projects really that badly run?” Could it be that these projects are just a front? Could it be that the money is actually spent on other, secret, projects?

4. NASA is a leader in the study of global warming

One of NASA’s activities is the study of Earth’s climate. See: Many people have expressed scepticism about global warming, and say NASA exaggerates the danger.

But a recent study paints a very different picture. The authors of “Climate change prediction: Erring on the side of least drama?” found that scientists have tended to under estimate and under play the effects of global warming. For example the shrinkage of the Arctic polar icecap has been much greater than even the worst case scenario.

The original article can be found at:, but since it is behind a pay wall, you can read about some of the results at:

The question that comes to mind is, “Why does NASA want to downplay the threat of global warming?” Are they just too cautious, or could there be a more frightening explanation?

What are we to make of all of this? Possibly they are nothing but a collection of unrelated facts. But, they might also point to a conspiracy. There are a lot of unanswered questions about NASA is up to.

• Could it be that they have discovered that human life on Earth is doomed?
• Could it be that they have abandoned any hope they can stop the inevitable?
• Could it be that they have planned an escape for the elite and themselves?
• Could it be that they have started to build the warp drive space ship to escape?
• Could it be that they have started to look for another planet to escape to?
• Could it be that they have diverted money to pay for the escape?
• Could it be that they have down played the danger of global warming to keep the general population in the dark until it is too late?

This all seems too far fetched to be real. But who knows? Maybe, somewhere far out in space, a new earth orbits around a dim star in our sky, and around that new earth, astronauts from our old Earth have already looked down on their new home.

Warning: This is just an exercise in speculation and I don’t believe that any of it is true. Please don’t take it seriously.

I realize that this conspiracy theory is similar to “Alternative 3″. See:

“Felix” and The Ancient Astronauts

June 22, 2014 by · Leave a Comment 


The Red One

They say that reading is part of writing, so I think I can count some of my recent reading as work on “Felix”. I’ve read a bunch of stuff about Lovecraft and ancient astronauts recently, which is something touched on in my story.


When I first learnt of Erich von Däniken’s “Chariots of the Gods”, I was immediately convinced of it’s veracity. However, as I read more, all of the claims disappeared in a puff of smoke. This lead to my interest in scepticism.

I have long since stopped reading the work of the people who perpetuate von Däniken’s ideas. These proponents haven’t come up with any convincing evidence for their hypothesis. Nonetheless, I am still fascinated with the idea. In part, it is because the idea is, to me, plausible.

Recently I started to follow Jason Colavito blog about ancient astronauts and pseudo archaeology. See: He takes a sceptical stance and investigates claims in some detail. One his major claims is that people who make claims about ancient astronauts were inspired by the stories of H. P. Lovecraft. He published the book “The Cult of Alien Gods” about his ideas. See:

Jason Colavito links to Michael S. Heiser blogs. See: and Heiser has debunked some ancient astronaut claims.

One of the disturbing aspects of many the ancient astronaut claims is their inherent racism. Although it doesn’t often appear overtly, many of the arguments used boil down to “those people” were not capable of building something so impressive. Lovecraft often expressed racist views, which many of his modern day fans are uncomfortable with.

Science Fiction

Over the years I’ve come across many stories and movies that invoke the possibility of extraterrestrial visitors to Earth in the distant past. As noted above, H. P. Lovecraft’s Cthulhu Mythos stories involve extraterrestrial visitors who have influenced history. He wrote most of these stories between 1926 and 1936.

Recently I came across an earlier story, Jack London’s “The Red One”, which was published in 1918. It concerns a man who finds an alien artefact deep in the interior of Guadalcanal. The descriptions of the natives in the story are quite racist, although it isn’t clear to me if this reflects London’s views or those of the character in the story. The story is available from Project Gutenberg. See:

Several of Arthur C. Clarke stories have ancient alien visitations as a back ground. Most famous are the 1951 short story “The Sentinel” and the 1968 novel and movie “2001: A Space Odyssey”. See:

I hope to soon add my story “Felix” to this list.

Scientific Study

In the past, some scientists have taken the idea seriously. Most notable was Carl Sagan, who published papers on the subject in the early 1960s and later was involved with the SETI project. Since pseudoscience has taken over the ancient astronaut hypothesis, few scientists will take a serious look at the possibility. If you know of a serious scientific study of this, please let me know.

I remain intrigued by the idea of alien visitations in the past. For now it seems that it can only be explored in fiction. Some day some thing may show up to validate the hypothesis, but it does seem that not even the advocates have made any serious attempts to find that evidence.

I would like to explore this idea more in my stories and movies.

The Dunning–Kruger Effect Gets My Goat

June 15, 2014 by · Leave a Comment 

Darwin3Much of the humour in the comic strip “Dilbert” is based on one of the characters demonstrating ignorance without being aware of their ignorance. This behaviour has a name, The Dunning–Kruger Effect, and in real life it makes my blood boil.



What is The Dunning–Kruger Effect?

“… ignorance more frequently begets confidence than does knowledge” – Charles Darwin

The Dunning–Kruger Effect is what is known as a cognitive bias. A cognitive bias is where our minds take a short cut which results in an illogical decision. Wikipedia lists 167 different cognitive biases.

The Dunning–Kruger Effect states that when people who lack knowledge or skill in an area, they tend to be over confident in their abilities, don’t recognize real ability in other people and are unaware of their lack of knowledge.

“If you’re incompetent, you can’t know you’re incompetent. […] the skills you need to produce a right answer are exactly the skills you need to recognize what a right answer is. – David Dunning

Dunning and Kruger say that education and training can correct this bias in people.

The Other Side of The Dunning–Kruger Effect

As the Charles Darwin quote above suggests, people who are skilled and knowledgeable, tend to be less confident. In my case I find that the more I know about a topic, the more aware I become of how things can go wrong. I come to believe that there are important aspects of the topic that I am still unaware of. This knowledge and belief make it hard for me to act with confidence.

Nate Silver’s “prediction paradox” supports this view. He points out that less confident someone is in their prediction, the more likely they are to be right. Unfortunately, most people will trust some who appears confident over someone who is not.

Why The Dunning–Kruger Effect Gets Me Angry

Several times over my life I have gone through some very unpleasant experiences where The Dunning–Kruger Effect played a big role. These were situations where I was knowledgeable about an issue to a much greater degree than others who then ignored my opinions, which lead to bad decisions. Bad decisions that I then had to try to work around.

These situations often created a great deal of anger within myself. I was angry at the less knowledgeable people because they didn’t take my opinions seriously. In my mind I would scream, “Why can’t you see that you fool!” That isn’t a diplomatically effective way to talk and I was usually able to keep my mouth shut. I suspect they got the message anyway.

Part of my anger was with myself, but, as with others, my behaviour reflected my own cognitive biases.

  • Since I was aware of the danger that I might be the one who suffered from The Dunning–Kruger Effect, I was hesitant to speak out forcefully, since it could be me that was in the wrong. When I did speak out, I came across as tentative and unsure. That made it easy for others to ignore or discount my opinions.
  • I also suffered from The Curse of Knowledge. That is a cognitive bias where you assume that if you know something, then others know it as well. In retrospect I realized that because I assumed too much about the other’s level of knowledge before I talked to them, I wasn’t in a position to explain the knowledge effectively when I became aware of their ignorance.

People will develop their positions quickly after they begin to consider an issue and then stick to it. If you are to have a real effect on their views, it is important to convey information before they have begun to form their opinion.

How Can I Use The Dunning–Kruger Effect In A Story?

In my better films, like “Line of Taxis”, I have taken emotions I have experienced and placed them in a different context. I have never done this consciously with the anger I felt because of The Dunning–Kruger Effect. Maybe my feelings are still too raw to use.

I think that The Dunning–Kruger Effect and other cognitive biases can provide a basis for more complex character and motivations. They allow a way for a “bad guy” to behave badly, when they are not really a bad person; just flawed in their thinking.

Off hand, I don’t see cognitive biases as a basis for a story, but they can certainly add complexity to a conflict situation.

In “The Barrier” I can see some aspects of The Dunning–Kruger Effect. Both the protagonist, Arthur Macdonald, and his boss, Brandon Baker, struggle against it. Since I didn’t try to include it deliberately, I didn’t develop it fully. When it comes time to revise the movie, there may be some opportunity to exploit cognitive biases much more.

For More Information

If you want to know more about The Dunning–Kruger Effect and cognitive bias, Wikipedia has several articles you can read.

You can watch the movies I mention in this blog on these pages:

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